Fort Lyon Resident Stories


Dan Cooley

Before coming to Fort Lyon, I spent 35 years drinking and drugging. My life had been a terrible example of heavenly highs to hellish lows and everything in between. For years friends would tell me that I needed help and was a drunk, but what did they know, they just did not know how to really party! I drank up friends and family members, cars, trucks, homes, ex-wives, dogs and even my one and only daughter. Along my lifelong journey to Fort Lyon, I lost my own self respect and developed a healthy hatred for myself and joined the legions of others that had been in my life, wishing I was dead. After being released from detox just a few hours, I went and got another bottle and drank myself, literally to death and unknowingly put my life in the hands of one of my girlfriends who came home to find me twitching and foaming at the mouth on our bed so she administered CPR until the ambulance arrived.

After I was released, I asked a friend of mine who had been at the Fort for a couple of years how to get in, I had hit a new rock bottom. There was something different about this nosedive that caught my attention like none before!.I had been living like a victim my entire life and didn’t even know it. This was not the man that I was created to be, my higher power loves me and like any parent, only wants to see me be happy, joyous and free from this disease and to have a healthy relationship with Him. Because of God, AA and Fort Lyon I am no longer a victim, I am a creator, a creator of healthy decisions. The decision to give my will and my life over to God and to listen to his voice and know that as long as I do that on a daily basis, I can’t go wrong. 

Today, I have a renewed relationship with my higher power, whom I choose to call Jesus Christ, my family is now back in my life, I have true friends, I’m trustworthy and I am currently in college again for the first time in nearly 2 decades. By God’s grace, on October 1, 2020 I will be clean and sober for 2 years! Thank you, God, AA and Fort Lyon!



I was in pain, living in a dark destructive world. I had lost my fiancée and 6 months later my mother. I began smoking crystal meth, that soon spiraled into being an I.V. user. I hit the basement of rock bottom. The only person I had left in my life was my daughter Alexis and she had finally had enough of the hurt and pain had caused her. She no longer wanted anything to do with me.

Looking for a long-term inpatient facility I came across Fort Lyon a supportive residential community. With all the tools the fort had to offer, I took advantage of everything I could. I changed my thought process and slowly let go of all the anger, hurt and any other burden that was holding me back.

Because of Fort Lyon I have peace for the first time in my life. I feel so blessed and grateful to be 18 months clean thanks to the faith I have in God. I was fortunate enough to apply as a house case manager in a sober living house and will be leaving the fort soon. I sincerely thank all my peers and staff for helping me move on to this new chapter in my life.

Resident Stories Archive

Rick Bertetto

I have battled both mental illness and drug addiction for most of my life. Depending on which period of my life you are talking about. The progression and reduction of both have wavered up & down.

I put myself in treatment in 1987 for cocaine addiction, but never really addressed the mental health issues. I’ve had many times of my life in which I didn’t drink or drug for long periods of time (sometimes up to a year) but always fell back in.

Recently the last 2-3 years were the worst years of my life. Due to the unsustainability of homelessness and I suffered greatly with my mental health. I spent two straight years chronically depressed finding no reason to live. I ended up in a psych hospital 5 times with 3 suicide attempts and multiple ER visits. Surprisingly, I didn’t use much alcohol or drugs through my depression. I had made multiple attempts using alcohol and prescription drugs to try and take my life.

Coming out of the psych hospital the third time, my Case Manager at Mind Springs Aspen, Sara McNamara, had mentioned the possibility of looking into a program in Southeast CO called Fort Lyon.

She briefed me on the program and gave me some time to think about it. I had always mentioned to the people (various mental health providers) that I needed a place to go that I could recuperate for a longer duration of time. A 6-10 day stay at the psych hospital was great but I needed more time to heal. Sara helped me apply to Fort Lyon and I arrived on November 5, 2017. Fort Lyon was the perfect fit for me in so many ways. A place where I could regroup and rest. I felt so good after 5 ½ months that I planned a return home to aspen to try to restart my life. I left feeling great, but crashed almost immediately only staying sober for 30 days and sleeping in 20 degree weather. I was hospitalized for another suicide attempt and afterward requested to go back to Fort Lyon.

I’ve been back now for 10 ½ months, and I have made the most of it. I look differently at this program the second time around. I’m more grateful to have had a second chance restoring my sanity. I am trying to use all of the resources given to me. I want to prepare myself for when I enter the workforce again. This is honestly the best I have felt in over 3 years. I am exercising again, going to meetings, reading, listening to music and I have found my faith in God again. I am looking at going back to school to become a Health Navigator. I want to give back and help my fellow homeless friends with navigating life. I am also looking into becoming a peer specialist.

Just making the best of my life that is left at fort Lyon and I am so grateful, so very grateful. I would have to say sincerely that Fort Lyon perhaps literally saved my life.


KV was here for 18 months. Immediately, she began to regularly attend the campus meetings. She focused on her sobriety with the support of a sponsor to achieve the 12 steps of recovery. She gave back to the Supportive Residential Community by being active in the Resident Council, and serving as the Activity Coordinator. She planned several really successful dances, special parties and outdoor sports activities for the other residents. She also hosted some visiting Church Choir kids when they came and performed for the residents. These types of events are core to the success of all the residents at Fort Lyon. KV helped to create the recovery community that so many struggle to find before coming to the Fort. 

KV also worked on her reunification with her family. She expanded her employment skills by working in the kitchen, creativity room, mail room and cafeteria at different times.  She attended medical and mental health visits on a regular basis to complement her recovery work on campus.  She completed New Beginnings and was still working on her appeal for Disability when she transitioned to housing in La Junta, Colorado.  She has a support system in place in the town she has transitioned to and hopes to volunteer at the local public library. 


“I don’t want to just do stuff,” RD. says, bending over the rusty derailleur of an old Schwinn. “I want to bring it up.” He had been struggling with addiction,in Fort Collins when he decided it was time to clean up and get back to his normal life. He went to Weld County Veteran’s Services in Greeley, where he was told about Fort Lyon and put on the waiting list. “This doesn’t sound like a normal place,” he remembers thinking. He had visions of a military prison.

What he saw was something completely different, and it fit in with his own philosophy. Getting clean was only part of it, Fort Lyon was about bringing people up. RD quickly realized he could get the support he would need to get healthy and to begin a program repairing bicycles for Fort Lyon residents while he was there. “It’s a healthy thing,” he says. “Gets people out and about. Soon as they get on a bike, you see a change in them.” With the blessing of the staff at Fort Lyon, he got online and put out a call for donations of bicycles and parts. The responses poured in.

RD didn’t limit himself to rescuing old bicycles. He also made time to attend Fort Lyon’s veteran’s meetings, and soon he and the others decided to take it to the next level. They contacted the American Legion and started a new post at Fort Lyon, the only post of its kind in the world, whose Legionnaires are all formerly homeless or in recovery. The post’s Honor Guard now leads parades around the community.

The bike shop and the American Legion charter are legacies he will leave behind when he moves on from Fort Lyon. His hope is to one day set up a bed and breakfast, something he knows wouldn’t have been possible the way he used to live.,

Back at the little shop, RD spins the wheel of the bike on the workbench and says, “These old bicycles are kinda like us here. We’re a little bit older, we’re rusty, but we haven’t been taken to the salvage yard yet because we’re still restorable.”


The residents of Fort Lyon have taken ownership of the place. It needed work to get to the state that it’s in today, and residents participated in the HVAC installation and the replacement of sewer lines, along with general maintenance, painting, and routine groundskeeping.

In a corner of one of the dorms at Fort Lyon, DV. has set up a little barber shop next door to the room where he sleeps. He’s got a chair, clippers and scissors, all the tools of the trade donated by the owner of a pawn shop in town. That same building houses the campus’s library, coffee shop, and computer lab, and the shop where residents can purchase snacks and personal hygiene products.

When the first group of residents arrived at Fort Lyon, DV was the first one through the door. He watched as more residents trickled in, and one thing he noticed was that everyone needed a haircut. “When I got here,” he says, “cutting hair was the last thing on my mind. My mind was on clearing my mind and trying to straighten up.” But some of his fellow residents evidently hadn’t received a haircut in years, and DV started cutting their hair on a little plastic chair in the hallways and the bathrooms.

“I never would have dreamed what I’ve accomplished since I’ve been here,” he says. “This place changed me. When we first got here, I had to hold onto the railings to help me get up these stairs. Now I could jump up these stairs.”

He points out the window to Building 401. “See that white building out there? I put that building together by myself. It was abandoned for, what? Four years. I reconditioned that whole building, and I maintain it, too. The gym? I put that together. That weight room, that basketball court. I polished them floors. I keep it clean.”

“And I do haircuts,” he adds with a laugh. “And I go to school. I go to AA classes. I stay busy.”

WL and TY

Two people enjoy a moment of calm outside the sweat lodge on the edge of the Fort Lyon campus. They appreciate the sense of solitude that Fort Lyon offers, away from what TY calls the static of the city, all the hardship, all the troubles.

WL says that his goal in coming to Fort Lyon was to stop his own insanity, from years of drinking and chronic homelessness. He had been living on the streets for four years in Denver’s Capitol Hill, and he had tried many times to get clean through different programs offered throughout the metro area, but he kept finding himself back in the same place. “It’s just a stone’s throw away: the alcohol, the drugs, the this, the that.”

In Fort Lyon, on the other hand, he has a place to focus on his sobriety away from negative outside influences. Building stability in his sobriety here, he says, will make it possible for him to go back and face the temptations of the city. “One of the fundamentals of recovery is a strong spiritual base,” he says. Fort Lyon provides opportunities for residents to join programs such as,AA and NA, and the Wellbriety White Bison Program. “It’s crucial for the Native American population to hold onto their individuality.”

What appealed to WL about Fort Lyon was that it was completely voluntary. “It’s not a forceful program,” he says. “It’s up to the individual how they want to comply with the program.” And those individuals have to make a conscious choice to make the trip.

“There’s not just an easy way,” TY says. “Not to focus on the negativity that’s always around them, but to always create a positive image about themselves. Believing, having faith in that positive image, and what you want your life to be like. When you believe in it, it eventually becomes reality.”