Why is it so important to take the time to hear and learn our neighbors’ stories? It’s vital because, on the surface, so many quick assumptions about someone’s appearance, social-economic status, or life choices can be made. However, what is the truth behind what resulted in that individual or family being in that position? Sometimes it only takes one or two bad days or one or two bad choices for someone’s entire life to look different than it did last week.
The world needs people who can slow down and have these conversations with others. The world needs people who are willing to listen to someone’s story. The world needs people who are eager to look beyond the surface with compassion and understanding. Now, more than maybe ever, the world needs people who are willing to help. The world needs people like this week’s guest.
This week, we’re joined by Coz Cusolito. That last name may sound familiar if you’ve been following AAT for awhile because we interviewed his wife, Marli Acquistapace Cusolito, at the start of 2019. This year, it’s her husband’s turn to be in the spotlight!
Coz is well known in the Elko community for being a man heavily involved with our city’s homeless population. Coz plays key roles at the homeless camp, the local service organization, FISH, and the harm-reduction operation for those involved in substance abuse, Trac-B (Coz will explain a little more about this later in the blog). All in all, if it involves helping people in need, you’re more than likely to find Coz there and involved!
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us this week, Coz! Let’s get right into it, from where did your compassion for the less fortunate come? How did you end up getting so involved in the different outreaches we mentioned?
“I don’t really know, it just sort of happened! Many years ago, I was involved with the Special Olympics, helping train some kids back down in California. So, it’s always about helping people, for me. If ever saw a homeless person, I’d give them something to eat; it’s always been in my heart and my nature, I guess.
“I had been working with the Elko area homeless, on the streets, here and there for about ten years. It just kind of evolved from there. When they talked about opening the homeless camp, Marli and I were down there with a trailer, picking up old car parts out of that field to try and get it ready. Then they started the cold weather shelter, and I jumped in and told them I would help! I’ve also been volunteering with FISH for about five years. I have always been their on-call maintenance guy, but once COVID hit, I don’t know what happened because it’s like I work there! I’m there about four days a week now.”
In a nutshell, how do you feel about the work that you’re doing, Coz?
“I love what I do, and we’re feeding a lot of people. Right now, we’re feeding around five to seven hundred people a month! In June, we served one thousand six hundred and sixty-eight individuals. It’s amazing to see the types of people that come in. I see people driving in nice pickup trucks to get food because, between the mining merger and COVID, many people have had their butts kicked over the past year or so. It only takes one or two bad days for something to happen to someone. It could happen to anyone, you, me, or even the boss of Nevada Gold Mines. So, we do what we can to help and point them to other services, and we’re happy to do it.”
Coz, what would you say to someone who may not be so “enthusiastic” about getting involved with the homeless community? This person may feel that we’re enabling them in some way or inviting potential crime into our town. As someone who is round and engaging with them every week, what would your response to those statements be?
“We’re all humans beings, and not everybody is lucky. We have addiction issues out there. We have mental health issues out there. And quite honestly, everything is horribly expensive! Even if you go get a job, it’s really hard to still be able to fill your fridge. There’s a lot of great people out at the camp! They’re not monsters. They’re not all the thieves people make them out to be. They’re all friendly and approachable. I can’t think of anybody out there who wouldn’t say hello back to a stranger.”
Wonderful! Now, many people in the Elko area may know about the camp and FISH, but they may have never heard of Trac-B. Can you please explain what that is and what your involvement with them means to you?
“Trac-B is a harm reduction clinic. We have a syringe exchange out at the camp, for example. Now, I didn’t believe in it at first, until Trac-B sent me to school for some training, and I learned that it’s not about enabling people to shoot up, it’s about stopping the sharing of needles. There are a few people at the camp who do have hepatitis, and all it takes to spread it is passing around a bad needle. Ultimately, we’re focused on getting people in rehab. We’re supposed to call the people we work with substance abusers, but these are just straight-up drug addicts. I have an easy way about me that gets them to start talking about the idea of getting help. Even with the syringe exchange, I’m always talking with them about getting better and back into life every time they come by.
“I actually just did a transport where I took a young man to Utah, put him on a bus, and sent him off to a program. Earlier this year, I put in probably the worst addict I’ve ever met. He started doing drugs at fourteen and was forty-two when he left for rehab. His entire life was about meth and heroin. He is now living in another state with a great job, a nice place, and has his life back! He just needed to listen to me one day!
“I had a drug problem years ago. I’m left-handed, and I had smashed that hand and was terribly injured. It took four surgeries, over three and a half years to get it to work again. Now, this was back in the eighties, and they would give me jars of Vicodin to take home. Over three years of taking them every day for a hurting hand, I got hooked. So, I understand addiction. I’ve been there. I never stole anything. I wasn’t a fiend. I never hurt anybody. So, I get it and how it can have a hold on your life.”
That’s all so amazing! Thank you for having a big heart for so many men and women in our area. You embody what it means to love your neighbor genuinely. Before we let you return to it, is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers?
“If you need help, we’re there. As soon as you let us know about the help you need, we will be on it! We will do whatever it takes to make your life better. We don’t do this job for a paycheck; we do it because we care.
“We’ve had some great success stories out there. I spend all day trying to make people’s lives better and help any way I can. Then, I go home, do some honey-do’s, grab my bass rod, and head to the lake. That’s my life!”
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See you around, Elko!