The Lakes Area Guys Network aims to build relationships among men who have had a more fortunate road in life and those who have had a bumpier road.

The concept of a bumpier road is roughly defined as lived experiences of addiction, mental illness, and/or incarceration. The network builds relationships by organizing and participating in a variety of community service projects.

Our community service work has ranged from simply picking up garbage in neighborhoods to the more complex, such as our work with the Up Front Alano Club in northeast Brainerd and our Weaving Community project.

Weaving Community, with funding from the Five Wings Arts Council, is building looms to be distributed free to various community groups and schools. As children and/or adults participate in self-directed weaving on the looms, they benefit from the experience of both artistic expression and relationship building with their fellow weavers. In addition to the permanently housed looms, the Lakes Area Guys Network has reserved looms to share with community groups on a temporary, special event basis.

The Up Front Alano Club at 302 NE. Fourth Ave. in northeast Brainerd has been the site of much of the Lakes Area Guys Network’s work. For those who are unfamiliar, Alano Clubs exist to provide meeting space for people trying to recover from addictions. Up Front currently has meetings for Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Crystal Meth Anonymous, All Addicts Anonymous, Ala-Teen, and Al-Anon Family Support. More than a hundred people come through the doors of Up Front every week.

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Our work at and with the Up Front Alano Club began in the spring of 2020.

We constructed and planted a raised bed garden for both the recovery community at Up Front and the neighborhood at large. We also built a fence, after milling the lumber, in the backyard at Up Front with the purpose of keeping vegetable eating animals away from the garden, and creating an attractive outdoor space for people to congregate.

In 2021, with a grant from Crow Wing Energized, we have more than doubled the vegetable garden, added a pollinator flower garden, apple trees, blueberries and raspberries. We will also be staining the fence constructed last summer, adding a gate, and constructing one of the Weaving Community looms on the outside fence for community use.

So why do the Lakes Area Guys Network volunteers continue to be part of our work? Here are a few responses from our regular volunteers.

  • “My dad once told me, ‘When someone needs help, help them out, because someday you are going to need some help. What goes around comes around.”

  • “I took from the community for so many years, now is the time to give back.”

  • “I get to do things like cut logs into lumber and learn how to use tools.”

  • “I got sober and found God in AA. This work is something I can do to help those who have helped me.”

  • “Philosophy, camaraderie, and an opportunity to meet people I normally wouldn’t meet. Also, I keep getting asked to come back.”

  • “It feels good to help out the community, and the people who benefit from the meetings at Up Front.”

Involvement with the Lakes Area Guys Network can be on a one-time basis, or more often, whatever fits a person’s needs. For more information about or involvement with the network, contact Lowell Johnson at johnsonlowells@gmail.com.

Lowell is a community volunteer, leading Crow Wing Energized’s Adverse Childhood Experience and Resilience Coalition.