APPLETON - A Fox Valley group that's spread both the realities of substance abuse and a message of empowerment to Wisconsin youth will take its efforts to a national audience.
Rise Together, an initiative formed in 2013 by Appleton's Anthony Alvarado and Douglas Darby of Suamico, announced this week that it's become a program of the national Young People in Recovery organization. Rise Together has become known for its straight-talk presentations that have reached middle and high school students at 150 schools. They've also presented to community groups and during heroin summits.
Alvarado and Darby, both in long-term addiction recovery, say the rise of opiate drug abuse isn't just an issue for Wisconsin.
"It's time that we build awareness on this topic on a much higher level," Alvarado said.
Young People in Recovery has more than 90 chapters in 30 states. They've worked to improve access to treatment, provide education and find housing and employment opportunities for those recovering from addiction.
Beneath their umbrella, Rise Together hopes to reach 350 schools by the end of 2017.
Alvarado said prevention is key to their work, but they recognize some in their audiences already struggle. He said they want to create environments in which young people dealing with substance abuse — or any issue — know "it's OK to ask for help."
Statistics show the urgency of their efforts. Wisconsin averaged 29 annual heroin overdose deaths from 2000 to 2007. The figure grew to 227 in 2013.
More Wisconsin residents died of overdose of all types that year than from suicide, breast cancer, colon cancer, firearms or HIV, according to a 2015 report by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, credited the work of Rise Together on Friday as an important piece of a complicated puzzle. He's led efforts in the state Legislature to combat drug abuse and overdose deaths. It's personal for him. His daughter, Cassie, has struggled with heroin.
“There’s not a quick fix,” Nygren said.
Groups such as Rise Together help stem the tide, as they “provide a face that young people could identify with,” he said.
Alvarado and Darby are excited for the chance to make a bigger impact.
Darby, though, promised Wisconsin can continue to expect Rise Together's message will ring loudly to its youth. He said their founding mission was to bring the message to their backyards.
"This is our home, and we'll continue to live out our mission," Darby said.
Jim Collar: 920-996-7206 or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @JimCollar