Over the years, Don Bessom has lost too many people near and dear to him from substance abuse and depression. The 2003 St. John’s Prep graduate was determined to find a way to help those so desperately in need of assistance.
Bessom has been working on an app called Strong Wings, which is not yet completed and still in the fundraising stage. He has been working on the project for over two years, which is designed to streamline intake for substance abuse centers and make it easier for those people in crisis situations to find a place to go for treatment.
“I hope we can build 600,000 beds for addicts by 2020,” said Bessom, a former St. John’s Prep defensive tackle on the powerhouse 2002 team who grew up in Lynn and now lives in Newburyport. “It began with my desire to find a bed for my father, a Vietnam vet who has struggled with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and alcoholism for years.”
Bessom hopes his app will be a game changer and has thoroughly researched the subject. He has sought input from social workers, recovery coaches, healthcare professionals, non-profit organizations, law enforcement and community service professionals.
“I want to create a new way to find sober beds to empower the right people and hold them accountable,” he said. “My father had been sober, but suffered a relapse three years ago. It became apparent to me very quickly how much need there is for something like Strong Wings to help families like mine who have been affected by addiction.
“I’m not an expert or a guru; I’m a loving son who won’t stop fighting for a better future,” Bessom added. “I’ve been trying to help families for over 10 years, trying to make the world around me better as best I could, but hit about 30 roadblocks.”
Helping people is something that Bessom loves; he’s also adept at creative projects and marketing.
“I can get paid to save lives and help, because substance abuse is a national epidemic crippling our country,” said Bessom, who has lost four friends from Lynn to heroin the past two years. “My idea was an app where people can see open beds in all three stages of recovery: detox, rehabilitation, and sober living.
“This week I unveiled a sneak peak at the Firehouse Theater in Newburyport along with Jason Hyland (SJP, Class of 2001) because the whole country and even around the world can build an ecosystem. The sky’s the limit,” he added. “I learned through taking to so many people, including addicts, that communication is a big problem -- and my app can help solve it.”,
Despite the frustration he felt after having calls not returned and help not available, Bessom never gave up hope that he could be part of the solution by building a recovery ecosystem that’s simple, easy, and free. His Strong Wings project focuses not on the problems, but more importantly solutions.
He credits learning about giving back while a student at the Prep and the teachers there who are his mentors.
Ray Carey taught him the importance of social justice, and religious studies teacher Joe Lovett was always someone who recognized when times were tough and gave him good advice. Football teammates, especially Pete Frates (who gave him the nickname ‘Squirrel’ when they played), John Goff, Mike Pitt and Nick Borseti, have been with him every step of the way.
It was Frates’ Ice Bucket Challenge a few summers ago that reunited Bessom with many of his Prep football teammates after he returned from California, where he got a master’s degree and taught at Cal State Long Beach Community College.
“I design websites for digital production now,” said the Providence College graduate, who also was a stand up comic for three years. “The Prep community, especially the guys on my (football) team, have always been there. I never networked when I was in California, but (ex-SJP teammate) Henry Pynchon challenged me for the Ice Bucket Challenge, and I’d do anything for Pete.”
Hyland had a great baseball career at both St.John’s Prep and the University of Tampa and was a two time MVP before being injured and becoming addicted to opiates. He’s doing well now and wrote a book about what he went through and his recovery called ‘Stop Thinking Like That; No Matter What.’
Bessom has a coup[e of big events coming up. He’ll be on ‘Shark Tank’ in Los Angles March 14 and will be honored at the St. John’s Prep Gala April 6.
“They told me I’m their alumni story, and I’m honored,” said Bessom. “My plan is not about making money, but about something good coming out of this. I was at a low point in my life, but my Prep education taught me to put others first.
“I was blessed with a strong mother who raised me right and didn’t make it easy, because she understood life wasn’t easy. I also had an amazing core brotherhood of hometown and high school friends who never flinched in our relationship and always stood by me. Plus, my dad’s a fighter, and he’s doing well now.”
Jean DePlacido is a part-time writer and columnist for The Salem News. Contact her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @JeanDePlacidoSN