For some individuals attempting to rebuild their lives after experiencing disruptions fueled by addictions, accidents, or poor personal choices, getting back into a healthy community relationship can be challenging. A cooperative emphasis that includes support and encouragement from local law enforcement is making that second chance opportunity a reality through the Gem County Recovery Community Center.
Dwight Munger knows first-hand the challenges that overcoming addictions and negative circumstances can pose. A substance dependency issue that developed after an accident took one of his arms began his journey.
“There is a stigma that you have to overcome. Not just with the perceptions of others but often with your perception of yourself,” Munger said. “Too often that has also meant an encounter with law enforcement at some point and if you allow it to it can create an antagonistic attitude that only becomes a roadblock to recovery.”
That’s where the GCRCC has found a formula that appears to be working for many of those they service. It entails a uniquely cooperative effort between those voluntarily in the recovery programs and the law enforcement officials who may have first met them in a less positive circumstance.
“That initial contact is not always congenial,” Emmett Police Chief Steve Kunka recalls. “When we meet many of these people they are often at a very low point in their battle with their addiction and behaviors. Fortunately over the years we have been able to foster a program that hopefully will eventually make that first encounter a positive turning point.”
For several years both the Emmett Police Department and the Gem County Sheriff’s Office have worked hand in hand with the Recovery Center to be a viable tool in assisting a return to a healthy community setting for “offenders”.
Munger points out that not all participants in the Recovery Center programs have necessarily been previous drug offenders.
“Certainly drug abuse is a major contributing factor to many of the lives but other mental health issues, depression, traumatic brain injury and addictions have played a role in many of our lives,” Munger said.
Chief Kunka says that many of the participants may begin their relationship with the Recovery Center through referral from Drug Court but their continued participation is voluntary and an indication of a commitment to make the changes necessary to restore their lives.
“The biggest thing is often getting individuals to change their environment, their previous community of friends, and in some cases to just believe they can be a contributing part of a healthy community,” Kunka said.
That’s where Munger sees the encouragement from local law enforcement as a powerful tool.
“Initially it may seem that recovery is being forced by the law – the referral through drug court,” Munger said. “The difference is that when you start to get it you start to recognize that you have been provided a turning point. The personal engagement of law enforcement leaders with our recovery also makes us believe that change is possible. They walk the walk, not just talk the talk. It’s more than Just Say No to Drugs. It’s sharing themselves in a genuine way that is non-judgmental and makes you feel acceptable again in the community.”
Community is a large part of the methods and benefits of the GCRCC. This past weekend the organization held its annual Rubber Duck Race for Recovery. The event entails a race of rubber ducks down twelve blocks of the Last Chance Canal. Each duck has a number attached to a chance purchase by supporters to win one of three gift baskets. The winners are the first two and the very last duck to complete the journey.
While the event raises funds to help support Recovery Center activities, it also served as a community exercise that raised awareness of the center and provide many participants with an allegory of their own lives perhaps.
“It’s interesting how the ducks change positions throughout the race, with no steering or propulsion, just dealing with the flow of the canal water and the challenges that pop up on the course,” Munger said. “Some find the weeds and are delayed a bit, others catch a faster current for a bit of the journey. There is really nothing they can do themselves to change the course other than to persevere and not give up.”
The duck race is just one of several activities that the Center engages in each year. They sponsored a food booth at the Gem/Boise County Fair and Rodeo in August. The booth featured “s’Law Dogs” off the grill manned by Chief Kunka.
Donating some of his vacation time to grill brauts served stuffed with brown mustard and his own coleslaw creation was only one example of Kunka’s commitment to the program. Kunka and EPD Detective Charmaine Williams serve on the GCRCC board of directors. As does Gem County Sheriff Deputy Dave Timony.
Normally the Center hosts a Recovery Day Fair in September where they are able to share food, fun, arts and crafts with the entire community during the official Idaho Recovery Month. That was cancelled this year due to coronavirus concerns but it doesn’t stop the continued support the Center provides the entire community – not just the recovery community.
“Part of returning to a healthy community is to become a contributing part of that community,” Munger said. “The funds we raise are not dedicated for ourselves but to help us reach out to others in need in the overall community. We help provide a Thanksgiving Dinner for those who otherwise might be left out. We also really have a great time taking kids shopping at Christmas time when that may not be something their family can afford to do.”
Skeptics – particularly some who have not experienced the trust relationship that the Recover Center and law enforcement cooperation has fostered – question the motives involved.
“Some think that our relationship with the police makes us some kind of rats.” Munger said. “Perhaps the name itself indicates that we are part of the establishment. It’s not true. We are not narcs, there are not rats here. There is no effort by law enforcement to pressure us to take up that role. They respect our efforts and confidentiality of our other relationships. We want to be a place where those seeking partners in their recovery journey to feel safe and secure. Law enforcement understands the importance of that element and has been respectful of each of us as individuals.”
While the word County is in the organization’s name, the GCRCC does not receive funding from or through Gem County. Recovery resources come voluntary contributions, private and governmental grants.
“One of the most important aspects of the Recovery Center work is to provide an encouraging and healthy environment,” Kunka said. “Sometimes you just need a place to hangout and be around people who are working on the same goals, moving forward, and determined to become better people every day. That’s what we all need, regardless if it’s a second chance or not.”
Those who may seek services or connection with the Recovery Center community can reach out to the GCRCC at 115. S. McKinley Avenue in Emmett or by calling 208-398-5151.