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Thankful for fellowship in recovery: Larger space welcomes more residents in need

BAXTER--For some, a building is just a building--an array of materials combined in a way to form walls and doors and floors. For many lakes area residents recovering from addictions and those who love them, a new space represents community. It re...

The Lakes Area Alano Association recently relocated to 7829 Highway 210 in Baxter. The larger space was sought to accommodate more recovery meetings for those facing addiction. Chelsey Perkins/Brainerd Dispatch
The Lakes Area Alano Association recently relocated to 7829 Highway 210 in Baxter. The larger space was sought to accommodate more recovery meetings for those facing addiction. Chelsey Perkins/Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER-For some, a building is just a building-an array of materials combined in a way to form walls and doors and floors.

For many lakes area residents recovering from addictions and those who love them, a new space represents community. It represents hope. It's essential.

"I never knew how to play softball, I didn't know how to make phone calls, I didn't know how to do a lot of things without alcohol involved," said one person in recovery. "When I think of clubs coming around and socialization and sitting down and talking, I need that. ... I've known people that talk about sitting on the doorstep waiting for the club to open, because that's how they stay sober."

"Stopping here for my sobriety makes a lot more sense to me," said another in recovery. "That's what's nice about this building, is it's becoming a part of our life. Our day-to-day life."

When leaders of the Lakes Area Alano Association began seeking donations this spring to support a larger facility, the goal was to accommodate multiple recovery meetings simultaneously and fulfill a growing need in the community. Charged with assuring space needs are met, the nonprofit organization watched as the number of meetings grew from six in the mid-1990s to 40. The capacity of a one-room storefront in downtown Brainerd was stretched to the maximum.

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A massive fundraising effort garnered about $40,000 in donations, enough to underwrite a mortgage on a Highway 210 building that once housed a car dealership and a saddle shop. The group opened its doors to recovery groups in September and already accommodates three more meetings with more in the works.

"Response to the building has been phenomenal," said Maury Graham, who led the charge on soliciting funds for LAAA. "The people that are coming here are absolutely in love with it. The comment has been made many times, it feels like home, instead of a cubby hole, dingy joint. There's no law that says that an Alano facility has to be austere and depressing."

At 3,400 square feet, the space is nearly four times the size of the group's downtown Maple Street location and 10 times the size of the group's first home. The front door opens to a large central room, the walls of which are adorned with rich wooden paneling. Two loveseats are arranged in one corner around a coffee table with a checkerboard. One longer table and one shorter are surrounded by chairs, with creamer, Styrofoam coffee cups and stir sticks loosely arranged in their centers. A taxidermied bobcat named Chester-who, according to a posted description nearby, was a loyal and courageous family pet killed in a tragic accident, donated to the association to inspire others-watches over the room.

Sliding doors separate two smaller rooms, each set up with a table and chairs, each also stocked with coffee supplies. Up the stairs, space currently serving as storage will one day become additional meeting rooms.

"The thing that we've always wanted to do was have the ability to have an Al-Anon, an AA and an Alateen at the same time," said Ross Boring, a member of LAAA's board. "Mom and Dad can go to their own meetings, the young one is taken care of."

Al-Anon and Alateen are both recovery meetings intended for those affected by others' addictions.

For Graham, one of the most gratifying things about the experience of acquiring the building and making renovations has been the response from contractors and others involved in the process. Many of those involved donated time or materials to support the organization's mission.

"Most of them tell us they've got a family member or a friend who is either in one of these recovery programs, or should be," Graham said. "The awareness of what is being done is pretty widespread. The community is well aware of the amount of addiction in the whole area. ... It kind of brings tears to your eyes, to be honest with you. It does. This is the first time I've ever done this. I think with a little help from God and some good luck, this thing came together."

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Although the drive for more space came together somewhat quickly, Graham noted it was difficult to find a space that met all the things on the group's wish list. The new building comes close, he said, although a few aspects of the location required some give and take.

One advantage of the Maple Street building was its proximity to the judicial center and probation office, given the numerous referrals from the county's drug and DWI court programs. Some of those in need of recovery meetings have lost their privileges to drive as well, making the Baxter location more inaccessible than one centralized in downtown Brainerd.

This quandary has not posed a problem, however, Graham said. A call list was organized of a fleet of people willing to offer rides.

"If you know what meetings you want to go to, we will make sure you get there," Graham said. "That's a tribute to the cooperation of all the people in the programs who want to make sure that everybody is participating in these meetings. If that involves going five minutes out of our way to pick someone up, so be it."

The visibility of the building-and notably, its large sign and parking lot-was a concern, given the anonymous nature of the recovery programs. But that trait also works on behalf of the programs' benefits, Boring said, announcing presence to the tens of thousands of weekend visitors to the Brainerd lakes area. It isn't only residents in need of recovery support, he noted.

"Physically, this is one of the larger Alano clubs in the state," Graham said. "Most of them aren't this big."

Graham hopes the size means the organization has a place to call home for many years to come. The work isn't over for LAAA, however. The need for continued improvements to the space and to eventually connect the building to city sewer and water looms in the near future. Graham hopes this means the tremendous financial support the organization has experienced from businesses and individuals will continue. Fundraising efforts have not ceased.

"Recovery meetings are essential for people," Graham said. "We are going to do our part to fulfill our mission statement."

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Need help? Want to donate?

Get in touch with the Lakes Area Alano Association at lakesareaalanoassociation@gmail.com or by phone at 218-825-3770. You can also reach them by mail or attend meetings at 7829 Highway 210, Baxter, MN, 56425.

Visit www.lakesareaalano.org for more information on Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon and a listing of club meetings.

To donate, make checks out to Lakes Area Alano Association and mail to the listed address. Or, visit www.lakesareaalano.org/donation , where payments by credit card or Paypal are accepted.

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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