Author: Vicki Ballas Alger County Community Nutrition Instructor

Elena Torongo from Families Against Narcotics talks about their new program.

December 17, 2021

Alger County Communities That Care AC3 United and Thriving on a image of Alger County

Welcome to the Alger County communities that care podcast series. I am Vicki Ballas, Alger and Marquette County community nutrition instructor for Michigan State University Extension. MSU Extension is partnering with Alger County Communities That Care or AC3 for short, to provide informative and real conversations from our community. Ac3 is a coalition of community members working together to keep Alger County united and thriving by providing programs and resources that promote a safe, healthy, and prosperous environment for all youth and adults in Alger County. Welcome to our fifth Alger County Community Care podcast. Today we have a guest from a program called Families Against Narcotics. Welcome Elena Torongo  , she is the Vice President. Good to have you here today, Elena. Thanks for having me, Vicki. You bet. Elena. Can you tell our audience what is Families Against Narcotics? Elena: So Families Against Narcotics was a program that started in 2007 out of Fraser, Michigan, which is the town down state. And response to them having two young overdoses within their community. And the community kinda came together and was like, What can we do to help and also to support the families who are going through this. And from there, the program has really expanded to multiple counties throughout the state of Michigan. There's an additional one in the UP and Chippewa County that started I want to say in 2014. And so really it's just a program to talk about substance use disorder within your county and then also to really support the families that are going through it and to let them know they're not alone going through it. Vicki: That sounds great. It sounds like something we really need here. So can you talk a little bit more about how you help folks and their families? Elena:  In small communities. I think often things like this, people don't want to talk about and it's a scary thing to talk about. And it's really uncomfortable to bring it forward. But for family members who are going through it captivates every part of their day. And a lot of what you're wondering, what should I do in this situation? Or what is this person doing now or I don't know how to love them, but also not enable them and they can create these really intense struggles for people. And so kind of the idea is to have all those other family members of individuals in recovery. Individuals who have loved ones who are still in active addiction, stakeholders, people who work in these professions to all kind of come together and share resources, share information, and just provide support. Because it can be a very, especially in small communities feel really isolated. That's kind of the base of it, is really just to support those family members going through that. Vicki: So I imagine, I don't imagine it because I know that there's a real stigma around this, that everybody thinks people who are addicted to drugs are bad people. But obviously they're not. There's people in our community of all ages, of all economic levels that have addiction. Yeah, it's something that we really need to talk about in kinda get to that place where it's just accepted more and not such a negative stigma attached to it. Elena: I 100 percent agree. You know, it's not something that you want to say is normal, but it is something that is common. You don't want to say to people that it's normalized, that this is okay that this is happening, but it is common in the fact that it is, it's common in our community. And I think for the longest time we had this idea of what somebody with substance use disorder looks like and we painted that picture in your head, but if anything, you know, we've learned that that is not true. And like you said, it affects anyone from 16, 17, to 80-year-olds, 90 year old people who are addicted to their opioid medication. And so it doesn't necessarily have to be the picture of what it is. And there is a lot of trauma, a loving someone with substance use disorder. And when we talk about stigma, that's very important to me is we're not trying to belittle or say that trauma isn't there because it is. it's really hard to love somebody with substance-use disorder, but at the same time, how do we love them? And I think that's a huge part of what we try to help is how to love that person. And then also to understand the biological changes that can happen in the brain, the chemical changes that can happen in the brain after long, prolonged years of use. How do we support those individuals even after they're out of active addiction? How do we support them? Vicki: Really, it affects everybody that knows that person, especially family members, it affects them. So to just to leave the family out and not have them be a part of this full recovery process wouldn't make much sense would it?  Elena: We have a peer recovery coach at one of our meetings and I really remember what she said and she's in recovery now. But she said the only thing worse than being an addict is being someone who loves an addict coming from her having struggling with substance use. Being in recovery for her to say that I think in some ways was really helpful for some of the other individuals there to hear that. Vicki:  Wow, that's powerful. Yeah. I mean, just in my own life, I've known people who've been addicted to substances and yeah, it's very difficult. Very difficult for everybody. Elena:  Yes. And  FAN It was kind of born out of the opioid epidemic, but we obviously don't discriminate on any type of substance. We know in the UP for a long time we've had issues with alcoholism. That's been a pretty consistent part of our culture for a very long time. So really anyone is welcome to come. And if you have a loved one who's struggling with alcoholism versus a loved one who's struggling with methamphetamine were all together to support those individuals. Vicki: So when you say that, they can join or participate, what does it look like? How would somebody contact you? What can they expect? How does that go? Elena:  Yeah. On all the fliers, there is an email that you can reach out to me, which is just etoronjo at LMAS DHD. And I can give you some Zoom information if that's what you want. Otherwise, we meet the fourth Tuesday of every month at Alger Parks and Rec Department. We meet at 530 and we're really kind of start off the first 15, 20 minutes are dedicated to an educational piece. We had a Narcan training on our last meeting. We had a peer recovery story at the meeting before that, in January we're going to have doctor Alshob from war memorial come and present information on the science of addiction. And then also just understanding some of the basic chemical differences between different types of drugs and what we can see with that type of addiction. And so that's usually the first 15, 20 minutes is dedicated to that. And then from there, we kind of open up to sharing and talking about what we're going through. And the hope as we build this program is that as we get more and more families there, is that someone would say, Well, I've been through this, this is what helped me during this time. And I've been through this. This is what helped me as well as than having stakeholders are people in this profession. So we have people from the woman senator who were there, people from the treatment team. We have harm reduction. We have all these different representatives that can also fill in those gaps. Really a first 15 minutes is commonly, you learn something that you probably didn't know beforehand. And then from there, you really kinda just open it up. And what people want to talk about is, but we'll talk about. That sounds really great. Vicki: I'm a community nutrition instructor for MSU Extension and I would love to if you would like me to do, I would love to come to the education part because for anybody recovering from any substance, nutrition and physical activity, improve their chances of recovering by 67% by eating healthy and being physically active. All the studies are really showing that in order to recover from an addiction, you really need that component to be successful. So if ever you need a slot filled, I would love to come in, talk about.   Elena:  That would be great. I think. Yeah, definitely that provide that insight. And I thought also with MSU's stress less with mindfulness program, I thought that could be really helpful as well. And my background is in wilderness therapy, so I'm a strong believer in how that can be so instrumental in any type of recovery or stress management? Vicki: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. You know, that's that's definitely needed. That's great. I love this program.  Elena:  Kind of format that we're following is in the first year. We will have our meetings getting people aware that this program is there.  building up that type of information and FAN does have some programing that they offer. And so they can fund some programming that we're hoping in the next year. So once we have more of a base of our program that we can start asking funding for some of these things. And so they do peer recovery coaching, which is something I've mentioned prior. It's someone in recovery who can coach individuals who are in active addiction and be that peer for them because they're going to know more what they're going through than Any other professional as well as family coaches. And people can sign up as family coaches. So let's say there's an overdose and EMS get called and the MS go and they grab this person but who will also come with them as a family coach, who will be there to discuss with the family members how they can support them, what's the next step, what they can do, as well as having a peer recovery coach, someone getting into recovery needs that support system. But a lot of times you need help knowing how to be that support system. And so I'm really excited about those programs. I'm hoping in the next year we can get something like that.   Vicki:  That sounds great, there is never a one thing fix. There's layers and it sounds like you're really covering all those layers of support which is really needed. People in recovery often takes many, many times to become successful in long-term with that. this program really sounds like that support system. Elena:  Yes. One thing I really enjoy about fan is that They kinda let you cater the program to each of your community needs. And we know that Alger County is different than McCome County. Obviously, it's different than Wayne County. It's different than Alpina. It's different than Grand Traverse, all those other areas and we're even different than Chippewa County, who was also up here. They let you have a bit of a free reign as far as making this. So it's going to work for your community. And so they're scenes based structures and obviously things like that. But what really makes me excited is that if there is a need that we're seeing that isn't getting that in our community. Hopefully, our FAN chapter can help create that space. Vicki:  Great. Tell us again, if somebody wants to participate, whether they're a family member of somebody who's struggling with an addiction or somebody who has an addiction and wants some help, how can they contact you again? Elena:  So they can e-mail me at etor ongo@ Or they can just call the health department. I'm in Munising and they can ask for me. And again, we meet the fourth Tuesday of every month at Alger Parks and Rec we meet at the conference room at five thirty. Vicki:  What's the phone number for the Health Department? Elena:  It is 9063872297. Give them a call and I'm in the office, they will transfer it back to me if you want attend by Zoom. We do have that option. Especially, you know, just wanting to feel more comfortable, but also for confidentiality. The meeting is entirely confidential. We don't do last names, it's just first names. Obviously, the small community people know each other. It is very confidential and you're welcome to zoom in and even change your name and just listen. You don't have to say your name, you don't have to do anything like that until you're comfortable. Vicki:  That's great. It takes a village, right? Get rid of that stigma is welcoming your village into your life. Elena:   And I will say that I've been I mean, I'm sure as you know, as being part of the AC3, is that Alger County I think, really takes care of their own. And it may take us a while to recognize that there's an issue. But once we do, when we start talking about creating the FAN chapter and the reason why we chose Alger County was because there had already been so many different movements by individuals within the community trying to do this. And when we talk with Judge Luma, he was like, I love the FAN program. I think it's great. I would love to see that happen. And then meeting with our law enforcement who were some of the very first people to jump on board. They're like we need this, we need to support these individuals. And I think that was huge. I think to have that backing from the get go was great to have. We have Deputy Dyer who was on our board. We have Rob Steinhoff who was the county prosecutor. Those aren't the individuals I think you would initially think of as being part of the board, but they were the individuals who were right from the get-go wanting to be a part of it. Vicki:  Yeah. Make sense. They they see that firsthand. See it all happening.  For sure. Elena:  So I was very excited to have that representation, especially to bridge that between, I hope in the future to have law enforcement there, to present kind of their side and their insight on to those family members. Because they want these individuals to succeed too, just because they're the ones having to arrest people or whatever. They still really want these people to succeed. Vicki:  Yeah, It's important to build that relationship with law enforcement and the folks that are dealing with them. Elena, is there anything that we missed that you wanted to tell our community about? Elena:   Again, we are entirely confidential. There's no need to disclose who you are. You disclose as much as you're comfortable with. If you want to come in and sit in list or not. He allowed as well. I'm really excited. We're still building up our program. We've only had three meetings, so we're still very much in the early sides of it, but we've had representation from a different part of our county at every meeting. So I'm really excited to continue to grow and provide that support for those families. Vicki:  Is there any cost to this for participants? Elena:  No, absolutely not. For the FAN board, we are discussing setting up some donations. There are yearly dues that are paid to the FAN program. The big one, the umbrella I actually with Carrie Sevarens, Project Director at the Eastern Upper Peninsula opioid response, wrote a grant to the Alger Regional Foundation and we received that grant to fund the first year of those fees. And so that's really exciting, that that's completely waved so we don't have to worry about that.  In the future, we will probably be doing some fundraisers just to support things like that. Also for snacks that are meeting because who doesn't like snacks.  (both chuckling)  Vicki: Other than snacks what is the money used for? Elena:  So once the program start, get up and going, there actually be a Families Against Narcotics cell phone , there'll be a Facebook page, so you'll be able to find us on Facebook. Again, we're so early on that we're still in the process of developing a lot of this, but we'll get to Facebook will get a phone, we'll get our yearly dues because we will have consultations a lot with the FAN individuals the main people. And so that's where that money goes to. We can identify a need and if we need to fundraise, I have no doubt that we well, because again, Alger County  takes care of their own.  Vicki:  Right, or there's always money needed for something. I know our adult work group that I'm the chair of for the AC3, we fundraise to purchase gas cards and bus tickets for people to go to medical appointments, and that includes AA meetings or to rehab or to, to anything that's related to that. So and that's a need in our community. So Something like that you might need money for to help people get to those places and get help. And like we said, there's layers. There's so many layers of support that is needed and you just never know where that financial help. Everything costs. Elena:  Yeah, I'm glad you brought that up because that's another, a big proponent of the FAN board is just sharing resources that people may or may not know what's available to them. I think Alger County, we do have a lack of resources, but I think we also have a lack of knowledge of the resources that we do have. You are in a profession that could provide some help. You're more than welcome to come a time then to provide that insight. Because I think sometimes there's a lack of communication of what is available within the community. And something like your gas cards would be huge for us. Vicki:  Yeah. Right. Definitely. Sometimes people that are in recovery part of their process might be to get their GED so they can then get a better job and improve their life. Or they may not have money to pay for the test. And so you may need funding to help them with that. Or you may need another organization that has funding for that kind of thing that you said to pull those resources altogether. What people offer to help,  it takes, it takes a lot of people and a lot of layers to to get somebody through recovery. And stay in recovery. Elena:  Yeah. What's the term it takes the village? Vicki: Yeah. It's totally does. Yeah. I think all of us coming together under this Families Against Narcotics umbrella, I think it's really going to be effective and helpful for community. Hopefully this podcast will help spread that word around our community. So , please tell people about this project and share the podcast around the community. And let's get the word out about Families Against Narcotics. Elena:  So our community meetings are held the fourth Tuesday of every month at Alger Parks and Rec. at 530. And then our board meetings, which is just basically a lot of the stakeholders, family members who want to talk about program and what we're going to be doing in the future. Meet the first Tuesday of every month at 430 at Alger Parks and Rec. And we do also offer Zoom. We are looking for more members to be a part of our board. Right now we're looking for a treasurer or vice president, given we'll do some switching if we need to, as well as any directors or community members that want to be a part of that. So again, please reach out to me if you are interested in attending either of those meetings, that would really help. Thank you so much again, Vicki for having us here. I 100 percent agree. I think in Alger County it's something that we may have not discussed for a very long time, but I think it's at that point like we can't ignore it anymore and we need to support our family members going through it and support those individuals still in addiction. FAN is very catered towards supporting family members, but with that is also supporting those individuals with substance use disorder and whatever that looks like. I'm really excited for the next year and I'm hoping we can shape and mold into whatever our county needs. And I think it's definitely right now, it's just what we need. We need a Support Group. and need to start talking about it. And so I'm really excited about that. Vicki:  Elana, thank you for coming and good luck with this project. And again, if if ever you want me to come and talk about nutrition and physical activity, I would love to. Elena:  Sounds great. All right. Thank you. Vicki: Thank you for joining us for this episode of Alger County Communities That Care, promoting a safe, healthy, and prosperous environment for all youth and adults. We hope you tune into our next episode. For more information on AC3, visit us online at alger Funding for this podcast comes from the US Department of a culture Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or snap. Msu, is an affirmative action, equal opportunity employer committed to achieving excellence through a diverse workforce and inclusive culture that encourages all people to reach their full potential. Michigan State University Extension programs. And the materials are open to all without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, gender 

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