20 Q: James P. Scordo, Credo Community Center

James P. Scordo, Executive Director of Credo Community Center for the Treatment of Addiction. Photo by Justin Sorensen/ NNY Business

Credo director says overall wellness, integrity key to healthy community

After leading Credo Community Center for the Treatment of Addictions for more than two decades, Executive Director James P. Scordo, 55, reflects on the success of the organization’s treatment model as it celebrates its 40th year. Despite the challenges facing nonprofits, Mr. Credo believes a healthy community can be built and sustained through a focus on an individual’s overall wellness. Credo will hold an anniversary celebration on Aug. 1 at 6 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn, Watertown.

NNYB: What qualities do you think are important for any leader?
SCORDO: A CEO kind of has to be a jack of all trades, but you need to be a foundation. You need to be a person of integrity—you need to be honest with your clients, your employees ans the people you interact with. You need to be able to lead but step aside and let people do their jobs. You need to empower employees and provide opportunities to grow. The team approach is crucial. As a leader, I look at myself almost like a coach. The best thing I can do is hire good people and surround myself with good people that will help us make the best decisions. We look for quality employees that value the language of our organization and that are going to make a difference in people’s lives.

NNYB: How are you funded?
SCORDO: We get a third of our funds from the state, then we rely on county funds, United Way dollars, donations and various fundraisers.

NNYB: How many employees do you have?
SCORDO: We have 70 full-time and 25 part-time employees, spread out over four different residential sites and one outpatient center in Watertown. Since September we’ve operated a site in Lowville.

NNYB: How did Credo grow over the years?
SCORDO: We were a small organization back in 1972. We started with a residential program, but you can only have so many people in a house. What they started was almost like an outpatient treatment program where they’d tell people they didn’t have any more room in the house, but if they kept coming back every day, they could keep getting help. They bought the farm in the summer of 1974 with the idea that it had an environment to teach responsibility, caring for animals, self-esteem and growth. They didn’t quite have enough to cover the full mortgage so some of the families that were friends took out second mortgages on their homes. They had a total commitment to the idea that by helping someone else, they were going to help their community and help themselves. They were humble people. You do this because you want to make a difference.

NNYB: What different levels of treatment do you offer?
SCORDO: We’re pretty diversified in our programs. Outpatient is generally where someone would start. We have 265 individuals admitted, another 25-30 in the works, so almost 300 that are actively engaged in our outpatient program. Then we have four different residential models. We have the adolescent one, which is known as the farm. We have 26 young men from 16 to 20 years old out there. Then we have the women’s and children’s program where we can help the woman’s child during the latter stages of the pregnancy, to make sure that child is more healthy. We have up to five newborns up to age five that we can help while mom is in treatment. We have two different adult male community residences here in Watertown as well. We have a total of 72 beds in our residential program. We also have seven apartments that are kind of the final stage of independent living.

NNYB: How do you determine treatment needs and how do you get clients?
SCORDO: We look at 12 different core areas when developing a treatment plan. We’ll sit with that individual in a cooperative way and engage them in determining which areas they want to address in order to develop a treatment plan that they’ll be actively engaged in and interested in following through with. Patients could be referred by themselves, family or sometimes their employer. We get some that come through the criminal justice system—from probation, direct courts, parole. We get a wide variety of referrals, some more recently from primary care.

NNYB: How much of your focus is on treatment versus prevention?
SCORDO: We take a three-prong approach. We have to do what we can to stop the number of sales. Law enforcement is key—prevention and education to make kids aware at a young age of the harm that comes from use. You have to have a variety of treatment settings. Outpatient isn’t going to work for everybody, but usually you start at the lowest level of care, and then progress from there. We have several different residential levels with different lengths of care and we also have different levels of outpatient care.

NNYB: Since you started at Credo a major military expansion has brought significant growth to the north country. What are some of the less obvious ways this has impacted your agency?
SCORDO: We don’t see too many active duty soldiers come to us because they have addiction services on base. We do get some people, whether they’re trying to do get help below the radar or we might get some that are former military. We have strong services on base and strong veteran services in the county. Just by sheer statistics, as the population in Jefferson County grows, you’re going to have more individuals who have problems with alcohol and substance abuse. We’ve also come a long way with the stigma of addiction and mental health. There’s still a long way to go, but people are not as embarrassed to come forward and say they have a problem with alcohol or mental health.

NNYB: What kinds of trends in treatment have you seen over the years?
SCORDO: With funding, we see different periods where there’s an increased emphasis on dealing with the problem and putting money into treatment. And then periods where treatment is not seen as the answer and funding is reduced or stays flat. It’s cyclical. Our state is going through some challenging fiscal times. We’re fortunate that our state agency does a report card on each of our programs so they can be compared with other programs statewide. Rather than do cuts across the board, our state agency has done cuts based on outcomes. We score very well compared to other programs throughout the state. We have not had reductions in funding because of our report cards. I would consider us in the top 90 percent in the state. We also received some additional funding when other providers were being cut—we started our apartment program in 2009, which was when other providers were seeing their funding cut.

The James P. Scordo file

AGE: 55

JOB: Executive Director, Credo
Community Center

FAMILY: Wife, Karen; daughter,
Christina, 26; son, James, 22.

HOMETOWN: Watertown

EDUCATION: Associate’s degree in criminal justice, Canton College, bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, Rochester Institute of Technology, master’s degree in social work from Adelphi University.

EXPERIENCE: Briefly worked in corrections, has worked at Credo since 1983, served as Executive Director since 1990.

LAST BOOK READ: Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer

NNYB: What do you see as key components of building a healthy community?
SCORDO: I’m a firm believer in health and taking care of yourself. We’re on the far end of that where we’re dealing with folks that have perhaps lost their way a little bit with their health when their alcohol or drug use escalated. Part of our treatment is to help them find wellness and a healthy lifestyle. Our treatment approach targets the whole person—the mind, body, spirit and career. We’re a big believer in wellness and the benefits of physical activity. I live that myself and I know the benefits of it. A number of our employees have reaped the benefits of it as well. If we can pass along to clients that our bodies release natural chemicals through exercise, we’ve shown them a healthy way to enjoy and celebrate life. I think we’re fortunate to have a YMCA here that is one of the best in the state. A healthy body is part of a healthy community, and that comes from healthiness in mind, spirit and body.

NNYB: If you kept a list of “best business practices,” what would be in your top three?
SCORDO: Staff are at the foundation of our agency. We look for quality employees that are vested and interested in coming to an organization where they can make a difference. We’re fortunate that we have a wealth of them here—many that have worked here for more than 10 years and are very committed. I want them to be a person of integrity. I want them to treat our clients the same way they want to be treated or they would want their family members to be treated.
Ability to adapt to change. I see how our field and our agency have evolved over the last 30 years. If we didn’t make some of the changes we’ve made, we wouldn’t still be here. I’ve seen other programs that have been reluctant to change and adapt to new environments struggle and end up closing.
Ongoing training and providing opportunities for people adapt to the changing environment that we’re working in—keeping employees engaged and enthused about their job.

NNYB: Can nonprofits benefit from thinking more like private sector businesses?
SCORDO: I think so. We really are running a business and have to be aware of our finances. It’s not like it used to be where you open the door and treat everyone who comes in. If we’re not fiscally viable, we may not be around in another 10 years to provide the service we do, so we need to make sure we are as efficient as we can be. I look at how we spend every dollar we get as that I have a commitment to the donors and need to spend it in a responsible way. In 2012, we looked at closing our Carthage clinic as putting those dollars to better use—reaching more people here and strengthening our array of services. Those are tough decision to make. We’re fortunate that it didn’t impact individual jobs because we were able to bring them here. We put those savings back into our operations to strengthen our services. We did that cautiously. We didn’t want to do too much too quickly and risk running a deficit in the future. You have to make sure you can sustain what you’re doing.

-Interview by Ken Eysaman. Edited for clarity and length.

[Editor’s note: This is a truncated version of this story. For the full version, please see NNY Business in print or subscribe.]