A force for good in a neighborhood of ‘predators’

Treatment center wades into the thick of things with therapy and services

By Dwight Hobbes

Avivo is situated just blocks from Chicago and Franklin avenues’ notorious Thrones Plaza in Peavey Park – a park that, for decades, has been pestilent with drugs, prostitution and muggings. Formerly known as RESOURCE, Inc., Avivo stands as a shelter from the neighborhood’s storm.

Since 1960, the chemical and mental health services center has been providing solutions to the problem, offering holistic, culturally responsive care, transitional housing and, even, a backpack giveaway. The center annually aids some 18,000 individuals.

Its location is not lost on Avivo President/CEO Kelly Matters, who notes that being close to the action runs a risk of losing clients and, in fact, clients getting high while in treatment.

“It weighs heavily on our minds,” said Matters, “helping [clients] to recover in an environment that can be hard to recover in. We know in summer we have to be extra vigilant, have more staff on board, more sober activities to engage individuals – a lot of services.”

While Avivo sits a stone’s throw from Thrones Plaza’s pestilence, Matters is also quick to emphasize the good side of that location. “There’s also a whole community here,” she said.

“We have over 200 people working hard at recovery, supporting each other. Peer support [and] alumni, who have been in recovery a long time, stay very active here to help keep eyes on the prize.

“We are a force for good,” she continued. “The people we serve are a force, themselves — a community that supports each other. A safe place amidst, I guess, predators.”

Program participant at Backpack Giveaway sponsored by Wells Fargo.
[/media-credit] Program participant at Backpack Giveaway sponsored by Wells Fargo.

Teresa Lewis, a senior case manager at the center, looks at it pragmatically. “You can recover anywhere,” said Lewis. “If you truly want [sobriety], you do everything in your power to achieve it. It really doesn’t matter where you live.

“Once you’ve made up your mind,” Lewis said, “the value of what you want, you put your all into that. They have to do that and much more to stay sober.”

She has worked with clients from all walks of life and presently works with women looking to stay sober after leaving prison, specifically Minnesota Correctional Facility – Shakopee. “I’ve seen women who have [served] up to five years or better be very successful [in] finding work and housing, maintaining their sobriety.”

But, she conceded, “As far as all that activity [at Chicago and Franklin avenues], no one is free as long as those things are going on in the neighborhood. The behavior does impact the whole community, all our lives.”

She finds that the positive reinforcement of counseling, group therapy and simple comradery makes for strong support to her clients against the surrounding environment. “You have a chemical dependency counselor,” said Lewis. “You have a case manager, an advocate.”

There is also relapse prevention, vital to recovery – the rate at which people return to drink and drugs is daunting. It’s reported that less than 20 percent of patients who receive treatment for alcoholism remain alcohol-free an entire year.

While, anecdotally, it appears worse for smokers of crack cocaine, Recover.org studies report “an exact relapse rate on crack is difficult to pinpoint” due to varying statistics in the research literature. However, it states, “Crack addiction relapse rates are high.”

One of a dozen program participants who snagged suits at Avivo’s annual Men’s Wearhouse suit giveaway.
[/media-credit] One of a dozen program participants who snagged suits at Avivo’s annual Men’s Wearhouse suit giveaway.

One of a dozen program participants who snagged suits at Avivo’s annual Men’s Wearhouse suit giveaway.

That is what Avivo client “Veronica” (real name not used) is working on. She used to roam Franklin Avenue late at night on a never-ending mission to smoke crack. In March, sick and tired of being sick and tired of the life, she threw in the towel sought the help that was under her nose.

“I didn’t even feel like I was living,” said Veronica. “I knew from coming to treatment before, there’s a better way of life that I wanted back. I was willing to do whatever I had to do to [regain] sobriety and feel human again.”

This is not her first go ‘round, either. She is one of the addicts who didn’t succeed at the outset but, true to the old saw, must pick themselves up and try again. How is it these days, having left a dead-end existence behind?

“Wonderful,” said Veronica. “It hasn’t been easy. It’s a form of commitment, discipline.”

What’s her next step?

“Maintaining sobriety. Possibly doing some school here, a computer class. Affordable housing when I leave Avivo so I won’t be homeless and go right back to the streets. These are goals so I can learn to be self-supportive.”

Accordingly, Avivo stands as a beacon to provide Veronica and its other clients the tools necessary to get the job done.

“Success is based on an individual level,” reflected Lewis on all Avivo resources. “You have access to all those things that will help you move on with your life.”

This article originally appeared in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.

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