Rise Together: Program to focus on recovery, support in Madison Area

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Statistics about the rise of heroin use among young people are often in the news, as are reports of the growing number of young people dying from overdoses.

A 2014 study titled found that users 18-24 are the fastest growing group of heroin or other opiate users for non-medical purposes. The analysis was completed by the Wisconsin State Council on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Prevention Committee.

It’s heroin ad hoc committee found that overall, in 2012 report a total of 163,000 Wisconsin adults used opiates, with 68,600 of them under the age of 25.

Douglas Darby was one. But the 2004 Bayfield High School graduate doesn’t like to dwell only on the problem and the scary statistics. As a former addict who recovered from the devastation, he prefers to spread the message of hope to others.

During Homecoming Week on Sept. 29, Darby, with the group Rise Together, will present a forum during two assemblies at Waunakee High School. A session for parents will also be offered at 7 p.m.

The presentation is just part an ongoing effort by community members, school administrators and students to support Waunakee’s young people who may be struggling with anxiety, mental health issues or drug and alcohol addiction.

“We’re very excited to come out and embrace the community and get a message of hope out there,” Darby said.

Rise Together works to “create communities where youth can be heard, loved and inspired,” Darby added.

The members tell their own personal stories of recovery to let students know help is there “whether it’s addiction, self-harm or suicidal thoughts,” Darby said.

Rise Together’s presentations will differ for the students and parents. Parents will learn more about the statistics of heroin use statewide and early warning signs of addictions, Darby said. They will also learn about “the difference between supporting someone in addiction and enabling them.”

Parents will also gain an understanding of some avenues for treatment and resources available.

Darby said for students, the focus will be “educating the kids to understand what the progression is and really infusing that hope back to them.

“We don’t want to see hopes and dreams and aspirations falling to the wayside,” he said.

Three staff members from Waunakee Community High School had heard the Rise Together Presentation in Reedsburg last year.

Waunakee High School Spanish teacher Ellen Grunder, who is also the advisor to the student club, Above the Influence, said she was impressed by the talk. Assistant Principal Brian Grabarski and Counselor Susan Bishop also attended.

Waunakee High School Principal said discussions about alcohol and other drugs are usually presented at prom time. But he added that during homecoming week, students will be invited to parties and will have to use their own judgment.

“We don’t want to preach to kids; we want to have conversations with them,” Kersten said.

The hope is that the Rise Together discussion will help with those decisions.

“We are certainly hoping it has some impact on students, and it leaves a positive impression on them and gives them information they can reflect on not just this year, but as they go through their high school years and adult lives,” Kersten said.

Above the Influence

Student members of Above the Influence will introduce the Rise Together presentation and talk about the student organization.

“This group wants the student body to know they’re here,” Grunder said.

Grace Statz, a junior at Waunakee High School, said the club’s mission is “to support and empower ourselves and other people. It’s a close circle of support people who value individuality and support other people’s stances.”

Statz described the group as welcoming to others who need help with mental health, having healthy relationships or alcohol and other drug awareness.

Above The Influence members had worked on the Lang Family House of Terror, which raised funds for the Recovery Foundation, said Nikki Martin, a junior at Waunakee High School.

Statz remembered attending an event by the Madison Branch of Young People in Recovery and hearing their stories.

“It was so inspiring to hear what they’ve been through and how they were able to pull themselves out of a dark place,” she said.

Grunder said the club was also formed to connect students struggling with anxiety, depression or OCD who may feel stigmatized.

“That’s why I’m in the club,” said Baylee Rolling, a senior.

Rolling said she has had a history of depression and anxiety, and her brother has autism. Often individuals feeling anxious and depressed turn to drugs or alcohol.

“They always do,” Rolling said, then qualified that statement: “If it’s not treated, they do.”

The club can also help young members realize they may need drug treatment, said sophomore Hope Scott.

Grunder said she formed the club five years ago after her own family member faced addiction issues.

“It made me personally look at my job different and my students differently,” Grunder said.


Community Cares

Another organization comprised of parents, school staff, mental health workers, local law enforcement and other community members have formed a coalition “to engage the community and community entities,” said Waunakee High School Principal Brian Kersten.

“I think of Waunakee Community Cares as the hub, and wheel spokes going out to schools, village, leadership, clergy, service clubs – any other entities that might be interested in coming together to work on specific areas of support that data may tell us youth in the community are struggling with,” Kersten said.

The idea of such a coalition formed about five years ago, following the results of a Dane County Risky Behavior Survey administered to students.

Kersten said such surveys are given to students every few years, but historically, no one has acted on them.

So five years ago, Kersten organized a meeting of Waunakee citizens to see if they might want to form a coalition to support young people.

In the past year or two, Dane County has allowed one of its public nurses, Jennifer Lujan, to revitalize the coalition, Kersten said.

“She is doing a great job in leading that and getting other people organized,” Kersten added.

Lujan is working with a medical student to look at how Waunakee Community Cares can “bring community entities together to hopefully better support youth,” Kersten said.

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