MOUNTAIN IRON — With September marking the 30th anniversary of National Recovery Month, on Monday Iron Rangers were invited to an inaugural Community Sobriety Fair at the Mountain Iron Community Center — the first of two scheduled for the area this week, with the second set for Wednesday at Fortune Bay Resort Casino in Tower.

At a table adorned in purple ribbons and business cards that could be planted into wildflowers stood Beth Elstad, founder of Recovery Alliance Duluth. She was among the many treatment and recovery support services chatting with attendees Monday afternoon. She waved and greeted everyone with kind eyes and a smile that waned only while speaking of the tragedy that became the catalyst for her starting her own organization.

“I’m a person in recovery and I lost a son to suicide almost six years ago while he was in recovery,” Elstad told the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Her late son, Bryan Crawford, was a member of the Army National Guard and a graduate of the DWI Court. He was considered productive and successful but after nearly two years in recovery, he took his own life. Elstad, who has been in recovery from drugs and alcohol for 23 years, said that Bryan had experienced trauma early on and that combined with PTSD, anxiety and depression became too much for him. “What I say to people is let’s not underestimate the power of the things that people in recovery experience, or people with mental illnesses,” she said. “Suicide is a reality for some folks and there are a lot of people who have had the same experience that I have.”

Elstad’s Duluth-based organization, though relatively new, aims to end stigma by building and mobilizing a community across northeast Minnesota that provides peer support to those in or seeking recovery. “I think it could’ve made a difference in [Bryan’s] life and I think it could’ve made a difference in my life.”

At Monday’s Sobriety Fair she was not alone in that thinking. In fact, others in attendance questioned why there haven’t been more of these events locally until now.

C.A.P.E. Coalition and Recovery Month

For the past three decades, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has earmarked September as a time to spread awareness and understanding about mental health issues and substance use disorders while celebrating the people who recover. The idea behind National Recovery Month is to impart the message that not only is treatment effective but that people can and do recover with the support of treatment and service providers who help make that possible.

Last week the St. Louis County Board joined the movement by officially proclaiming September as Recovery Month locally after public health officials reported spending copious amounts of time working to educate the public about substance abuse issues. County staff also teamed the Chemical Abuse Prevention and Education Coalition — also known as C.A.P.E. Coalition. C.A.P.E., formerly known as North - Opioid Abuse Response Strategies, formed several years ago and is comprised of treatment coordinators, law enforcement and health educators located throughout northeast Minnesota. They share a goal of bringing awareness to chemical abuse issues while promoting a healthy lifestyle that is free from chemical abuse. Launching the Range’s first set of Sobriety Fairs was among their latest mission but is by no means their last.

“The goal is that is for anyone looking to navigate treatment and recovery to have all sorts of resources together in one room,” Stephany Medina, an opioid prevention specialist with St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services, told the HDT last week, noting that Mountain Iron was chosen due to its central proximity to other Iron Range cities.

The theme for 2019 is “Join the Voices for Recovery: Together We Are Stronger” and that was echoed throughout the Community Center Monday afternoon as attendees trickled in and out. There was free food and a variety of organizations participated, including the Twelfth Step House of Virginia, University of Minnesota Extension, the Lakeplace Retreat Center of Bovey, St. Louis County Health and Human Services, the Rural Aids Action Network and many others. There were also services available through the Warrant Resolution program, a growing initiative that has been gaining traction across the Range since spring as it helps people quash warrants and set new court dates without fear of arrest.

Alie Staniger, a chemical dependency counselor or Range Mental Health Center, was also on site providing countless brochures, booklets and referrals for recovery services to anyone who happened to pause. Staniger shared with the HDT that she’s been in recovery for a decade and facts surrounding the subject can easily get convoluted.

“Because of Narcotics Anonymous and [Alcoholics Anonymous] being anonymous, the public doesn’t see that recovery is actually happening on the Iron Range,” Staniger said, insisting there are more people in recovery on a local level now than there were 10 years ago. “It’s also good that there are more services available to connect them with help. Just being able to provide the knowledge of services that are available — that’s a struggle when you’re in a rural area.”

Which is the reason the C.A.P.E. Coalition stepped in to spearhead the Sobriety Fair and what people like Medina with the county hope to combat.

“It can be so tricky to navigate the system to find the best fit for you, so this will be super helpful to people and I hope that the community feels the same way,” Medina said. “I'm excited to connect people with resources.”

The second Sobriety is scheduled for noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11 at Fortune Bay Resort Casino in Tower. It will also include a Warrant Resolution from 1 to 4 p.m. that day that encompasses both state and Tribal law. Anyone interested in learning more can call 218-725-5144. Or to learn more about the bus route, call 1-888-757-1540.

Members of the C.A.P.E. Coalition are also set to host a Walk for Recovery event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 14, at Silver Lake Beach in Virginia. Free music and a DJ is scheduled. RSVP by contacting Medina at MedinaS@StLouisCountyMN.gov or by calling 218-725-5144.

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