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Rock Sober: Reaching out to youth

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Offering emotional support and sober activities on a weekly basis, one program in Bemidji is reaching out to area youth interested in exploring sobriety.

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Rock Sober is a free group open to teens ages 14-18 in the greater Bemidji area. The group currently meets from 4-5:30 p.m. Mondays and Fridays at Evergreen Community Services in the Bridgman Center, 1418 Bemidji Ave. N. The Monday meetings focus on support and the Friday meetings focus on sober activities.

"I like it," one youth said during a recent Rock Sober meeting. "It's fun. I don't have to be here, but I come anyways."

Another youth said he started attending Rock Sober because he was in treatment.

"I like the people here and I like the environment," he said, adding that it's nice to be with others who want to be sober.

The Rock Sober program in Bemidji began in May 2007.

It teaches youth how to handle their problems and find a healthier way to handle life's hurts than drugs and alcohol, said Randy McKain, who is the program director at Evergreen Youth Recovery House and oversees Rock Sober.

Rock Sober focuses on solution-based sobriety rather than the disease model of chemical dependency, and doesn't engage in shaming messages or hanging labels on youth.

"We don't condemn them for their slips," said Tammy Bailey, Rock Sober facilitator.

Co-facilitator Graham Hensel said there is a need for free sober activities for teens.

"Bemidji lacks it - big time," he said.

One of the biggest challenges, Hensel said, is learning how to build the youth up and teach them to be leaders.

Hensel said his and Bailey's past experiences with drug or alcohol use have given them a better idea of what the youth attending Rock Sober are going through and struggling with.

"It really helps with teachable moments," Hensel said.

McKain said Rock Sober's successes include youth staying sober and youth going on to college or jobs. He said youth also have found a place to belong and supportive, caring adults by attending Rock Sober.

One youth said she started going to Rock Sober a year and a half ago because she was court-ordered to attend Alcoholics Anonymous and Rock Sober was an alternative for teens. At first, she said, she didn't want to go.

"But then I came to liking it," she said at a recent Rock Sober meeting. "I really enjoy coming here."

She said Rock Sober helps her to stay sober and keep a good head on her shoulders. She added that she enjoys being with sober people.

Another youth said his outpatient treatment led him to attend Rock Sober. He also said he didn't want to go at first, but now continues to go because he enjoys the meetings.

Rock Sober will begin meeting in Evergreen's new street outreach drop-in center after it opens. Evergreen is planning to open the center later this month at the former MTM Video location on the corner of 15th Street Northwest and Bemidji Avenue North.

Rock Sober has a site on MySpace.com at myspace.com/rocksoberbemidji. Youth interested in attending Rock Sober can call 766-8336.

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