A state AmeriCorps program started just a year ago to support people in recovery from drugs and alcohol has big ambitions, aiming to deploy more than a thousand members across the state in the coming decades.
"We see it as an emergency," ServeMinnesota CEO Audrey Suker said of the opioid epidemic and the broader issue of addiction. "We want to respond as quickly as we can."
Right now there are only 15 Minnesota Recovery Corps employees deployed at different organizations across the state, but Suker said the organization's ultimate goal would be to ramp up to about 1,400 members.
ServeMinnesota is the state's coordinator of AmeriCorps programs, with over 2,000 members serving at organizations throughout the state. The organization sponsored a daylong conference in Minneapolis Tuesday on the opioid crisis that included doctors, lawmakers and lobbyists, among others. Suker said the goal was to find common ground on how to respond and pay for programs to combat the opioid overdose epidemic and drug abuse.
"Whatever we can prove works in Minnesota can be replicated across the country," Suker said.
Recovery Corps members are now working with organizations as diverse as the Minnesota Association of Sober Homes and the Department of Corrections. Each organization where a corps member is assigned have a slightly different focus.
Valerie Gustafson is a Recovery Corps member working at Minnesota Recovery Connection. She puts together a newsletter, runs meetings and sets up trainings for peer recovery coaches, who are at the heart of the group's mission.
"A lot of what has constituted recovery in previous years was very fragmented, it meant allegiance to a particular program, which left a lot of people out," Gustafson said. "Recovery coaches do not endorse or promote any particular method, the idea is to support all pathways to recovery and to support people, meet them where they are."
Many of the corps members, like Gustafson, are in recovery themselves.
"For me, that means ten years free of alcohol and being careful to avoid any substances that might cause me further difficulties," Gustafson said. "All the help I was given during those ten years got me here, and a critical part of recovery is giving back."