Christopher Bruschi, left, with Bobby Hartmann Jr. picking up litter on Main Street earlier this month. Photo: Peter Blasl

If downtown Riverhead’s streets are looking cleaner lately, you can blame Bobby Hartmann Jr.

Hartmann, founder of Mainstream House, a company that operates sober homes, has established a new nonprofit to assist people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.  One of the first things the new Mainstream Integrative Wellness  Inc. has taken on is a business-district litter patrol, staffed (mostly) by Mainstream House volunteers fulfilling court-imposed community service requirements.

The new organization has already hired a coordinator for the community service program, Christopher Bruschi. He works as a liaison between the downtown businesses and the courts.

“It’s an alternative to incarceration,” Bruschi said. He got involved from being in recovery himself and getting to know Hartmann.  The two play in a band together and have become friends.

Christopher Bruschi at was at work with a volunteer Saturday morning in the Peconic River parking lot. Photo: Denise Civiletti
Christopher Bruschi at was at work with a volunteer Saturday morning in the Peconic River parking lot. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Bruschi, a longtime Hampton Bays resident, has worked for Catholic Charities and the L.I. Center for Recovery and said the new position with Mainstream Integrative Wellness is “right in my wheelhouse.”

“He’s a good guy,” Hartmann said of the nonprofit’s first employee.

Working for the organization, helping others through recovery, is a way of giving back, Bruschi said.

“Recovery saved my life. It saved his life,” Bruschi said, referring to Hartmann. “Now we’re giving back. This is how it works.”

Giving back includes not only helping other addicts but also helping the community, he said. The litter patrol is one way to do it.

“It’s a mechanism in place for men and women in recovery who want to give back. It’s another outlet and it benefits our village,” said Hartmann, who lives downtown and is a director of the Riverhead Business Improvement District Management Association.

“Working in downtown Riverhead has been uplifting,” Bruschi said. “All the smiles and welcoming we get from people here. It really shows they care and helps these young guys keep going.”

Bobby Hartmann Jr. addressing the County Legislature in May. Photo: Denise Civiletti
Bobby Hartmann Jr. addressing the County Legislature in May. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Hartmann said he was motivated to start a residential treatment program by the growing heroin crisis on Long Island. “Did you know 1.2 people per day died of an overdose on Long Island in 2015?” Hartmann asks. “It’s an astounding number. We have to do something about this.”

Hartmann, who in the past battled his own addiction to crack cocaine and alcohol, was inspired by his experience — and the overdose death of his sister Betty — to start Mainstream House 11 years ago.

He says he understood he had to get clean only “when I realized I was going to die.”

“I was on the edge of death,” Hartmann recalls. “If I didn’t have crack I tried to find whatever I could. I finally got sick and tired of being sick and tired. On Feb. 22, 2002 I got a ride to a rehab upstate. I’ve been clean and sober since Feb. 23, 2002.” He was in the inpatient program for a month. Then he lived in a “well-structured recovery home,” he said, something that taught him the value of a structured recovery program.

A well-structured program for early recovery is like bumper guards for kids at the bowling alley, Hartmann says. “You’re not ready to go it on your own.”

Another inspiration for Hartmann to start Mainstream House,  were “some of the bad sober houses that existed years ago that were just shams, taking advantage of the system.” One that he knew of in Riverside housed addicts in deplorable conditions. It was not only infested with cockroaches and bedbugs, it was also infested with drugs. “I used to go there to buy drugs,” Hartmann said. He knew recovering addicts needed something much better and he was determined to provide it.

Mainstream House today operates eight homes — seven for males and one for females. He estimates a couple thousand people have gone through his homes.

“Some leave and come back. Some just came to avoid consequences.  If they really want recovery, they tend to stay and do it right,” Hartmann said. “It’s what you need to build a good foundation.”

Editor’s note: Locals Making a Difference is an occasional series of stories about Riverhead locals making a difference, either right here at home or in the world beyond. Got suggestions for future profiles? Write to the editor

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.