Even though Minnesota is known as the Land of 10,000 Treatment Centers, there are still plenty of people in the state who could use assistance fighting substance abuse. Just ask Lucinda E. Jesson, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
“At one point in their lives, one in 10 Minnesotans will have need of substance-abuse-disorder treatment of some kind,” Jesson said. “Right now, we only connect about 10 percent of these people with treatment programs. So even if there are plenty of resources available in the state, there really is an unmet need out there.”
People struggling with addiction avoid treatment programs for many reasons, said Jill Petsel, executive director of Minnesota Recovery Connection, a volunteer-driven organization that works to strengthen the local recovery community through peer-to-peer support, public education and advocacy.
Petsel, who is in long-term recovery and has not used alcohol for more than five years, takes her organization’s mission seriously. Chemical dependency “can feel isolating,” she said. “If you feel like you are facing this demon alone, you are less likely to get sober or stay sober, for that matter. Without community support, it is very difficult to turn your life around.”
With just four staff members and some 300 volunteer peer mentors and organizers, the Minneapolis-based Minnesota Recovery Connection works to build support systems, education and advocacy for people in recovery. The Minnesota Department of Human Services is the 4-year-old organization’s largest funder.
Helping Minnesotans not feel afraid to admit addiction and find the help they need to live a sober life takes the support of the entire community, Petsel said. Her personal goal — and the goal of her organization — is to make it OK to talk about chemical dependency and to help direct people to support systems that are already available in the state: “This is exciting, fun, personal work for me. We’re trying to say it’s OK to not be anonymous about addiction.”
With a similar goal in mind, Gov. Mark Dayton proclaimed September Recovery Month in Minnesota [PDF], in recognition of National Recovery Month, which has been celebrated annually for 25 years.
People in the state’s recovery community have been marking the month in different ways for many years, including hosting an annual Recovery Works! Celebration in connection with the Minnesota Twins, and a spirituality breakfast, Petsel said. Those two events have happened annually for 14 years. This year, a lineup of Recovery Month events was organized around the state, including free movie screenings, panel discussions, Webinars, talent shows and concerts.
Four years ago, a group of volunteers helped Minnesota Recovery Connection promote and organize the first annual Walk for Recovery, an event designed to raise awareness about the state’s recovery community and support services that are available for people facing chemical dependency. “The idea was, let’s all get together and put our voices to something so we can say without shame or fear, ‘We’re in recovery. Our family members are in recovery. We are here to support them.’ ” Petsel said. “It’s just taken off from there.”
The first year about 250 people gathered in Minneapolis to walk around Lake of the Isles. In 2013, 2,000 people made the walk. At this year’s event, scheduled for Sept. 20 at Lake of the Isles, organizers hope to draw at least 3,000 participants. Funds raised from the walk go to support the work of Minnesota Recovery Connection.
Last year, Walk for Recovery raised close to $28,000. “Our goal this year was $25,000,” Petsel said. “We’ve already reaching $30,000, and we’re hoping to raise even more, which would be significant for us.”
Same-day registration for the walk, which will take place rain or shine, is available.
“This event really is a powerful and emotional opportunity for folks to come together and celebrate the reality that recovery does work,” Petsel said.
Greater Minnesota groups
The Department of Human Services has also funded recovery-community organizations in Moorhead and Rochester, Petsel said. This year, Minnesota Recovery Connection received additional funding to expand its work to Duluth and St. Cloud. This weekend, a recovery walk will be held in Rochester on Sept. 20.
Jesson has participated in the Twin Cities Walk for Recovery for the last two years.
“I think the walk was a great event,” she said. “Exercise can aid in recovery, and being part of a supportive community not only highlights the importance of recovery, but it is also something we can do to support people we love. We want people to know that people can and do recover from substance-abuse disorders and go on to lead productive, happy lives.”