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Fred Cotto-Lewis

by Debo Ofsowitz

Born and raised in Orlando, 26Health Patient Care Coordinator Fred Cotto-Lewis has a direct connection to the populations he serves. Fred was born at Orange Memorial Hospital, now known as ORMC (a part of the Orlando Health system) and grew up with his family in the projects of Orlando’s west-side Paramore neighborhood. He was just 16 going on 17 when his mother asked him directly if he was gay and without hesitation, he told her yes.


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Coming out wasn’t a difficult thing for Fred. But finding his place was. It can be very easy to mistake love for just a good time when you are young and without many role models that really represent who you are. Add to that the sense of fun and the illusion of freedom that comes when partying with drugs and alcohol and you have an accurate portrayal of Fred’s early adulthood.

Fred’s drug of choice as a young adult was cocaine. Actually, “cocaine chased with alcohol,” Fred says, “Oh, honey, I knew how to have a good time.” But those life experiences were not bringing Fred the love and happiness he craved. Recognizing that his current path had a dark future, Fred checked himself into the Center for Drug Free Living (CFDFL) and began treatment. It was at CFDFL that Fred met the man who later become his biggest cheerleader and his partner in life, his husband Rene.

It is a well known and well understood rule of recovery that those in recovery should not date while in treatment and should definitely not date others in treatment. And so, for a time, they remained friends. As their feelings deepened however, Fred and Rene made a pact to never put their recovery in jeopardy. Each one of them maintained focus on their own recovery supporting but never interfering with each other treatment and growth. When they got married in 2015, both Fred and Rene were each 100% their own person. Their recovery-love story was so successful that CFDFL actually added couples counseling to help other couples in recovery learn how to do it the Fred and Rene way.

While he was still in treatment at CFDFL Fred was also working doing delivery for a furniture upholsterer. One day, while lamenting his past mistakes and his fears that no one would want to hire him for a career position, his boss Mr. Shaggert said, “Fred, whatever you want to do in life, if there is not a position for you, you have to create it.” And so, Fred began to understand and believe that it truly was possible to create his path in life.

With this newfound confidence, after leaving CFDFL, Fred created an HIV Prevention Peer Navigator role for himself at The Center for Multicultural Wellness and Prevention (CMWP) peer navigator. He felt like he had finally found his purpose in life. From there the road was short between his work at CMWP to his current role at 26Health.

It is Fred’s origin and journey that makes him well suited for his role providing outreach and testing to the very communities and neighborhoods that he knows so well. But his life experiences go beyond just addiction and recovery. Fred has the education and training necessary to provide all level fitness classes (which he was doing pre-COVID at 26Health) and loved his travel to Belize and the Mayan Pyramids. His personality and joyful outlook can make even the sourest face turn into a genuine smile and he is deeply passionate about his purpose and the mission of better wellness that he serves.


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