This article is part of Scroll’s Second Chances series. Second Chances highlights the unique experiences and potential of individuals who have overcome substance abuse and/or incarceration, as well as the programs and people that supported their journey.

On Tuesday, March 19, the Center for Hope, based in Idaho Falls, hosted a community conversation in Rexburg to raise awareness about its new satellite office, soon to open in Rexburg.

Local officials and residents discussed the struggles within their community related to substance use disorder and found solutions and recourses for those who are struggling.

BYU-Idaho student taking notes for the conversation.

BYU-Idaho student taking notes for the conversation. Photo credit: Chester Chan

Another purpose of the event was to boost awareness about the Center for Hope satellite recovery center, which is soon to open in Rexburg.

Local government officials, first responders and members of surrounding recovery centers like the Family Crisis Center and Brickhouse Recovery Centers attended the event. Several students from BYU-Idaho and other residents of Rexburg were also in attendance.

The conversation began with two recovery coaches from Center for Hope telling their stories of what led them to become recovery coaches. After they told their stories, the attendees were split into two groups, each discussing a different set of questions.

Donna Johnson sharing her story of how she became a recovery coach.

Donna Johnson sharing her story of how she became a recovery coach. Photo credit: Chester Chan

The first group talked about the impact that substance use disorder has on the people struggling with it and those closest to them. The second group discussed the resources available to those people who struggle with substance use disorder and how they can obtain them.

David Hunt, the magistrate judge for Madison County, was an attendee at the event. He was very involved in the conversation and shared his perspective.

Judge Hunt sharing his ideas during the discussion.

Judge Hunt sharing his ideas during the discussion. Photo credit: Chester Chan

“The community conversation was a unique opportunity for stakeholders to share perspectives based on various individual focuses, including local government, policing, the courts or just interested community members,” said Hunt. “The program humanized substance use disorder, and reminded everyone there that we are all our brother’s keeper, and that we should be dedicating community resources to help those in crisis.”

Hunt played a role in the creation of a recovery center in Rexburg. He presides over a drug treatment court in Rexburg and has watched many people struggle and overcome their addictions.

He said that watching over the drug court has been one of the most rewarding and challenging parts of his time as a judge. So, when he discovered that a drug court graduate wanted to open a recovery center in Rexburg, he spoke in support of the project in front of the Madison County Commissioners.

“Nothing changes without dialogue,” said Hunt. “Nothing improves without honest assessment of what is working and what is not. These issues remain shrouded in secret and shame if they are not discussed and engaged openly and honestly. It is important that people who are not caught in the web of substance use disorder contribute to the solution instead of staying on the outside and believing it is not a problem that touches their lives. We need everybody’s help to solve this one.”

Jimmy Bicking and Donna Johnson making conversation during the event.

Jimmy Bicking and Donna Johnson making conversation during the event. Photo credit: Chester Chan

Andra Smith-Hansen, a professor at BYU-I and volunteer for the Center for Hope, hosted the event. Amanda Thueson, a senior studying communication, contributed as part of her senior project.

Thueson has taken many classes from Hansen and learned about Hansen’s affiliation with the Center for Hope. When Thueson’s senior project came around, she asked Hansen to be her mentor for the project.

“When asked her to be my mentor, I told her that I don’t know what I wanted to do for my senior product, but I knew I like helping people … (and) communicating in a way that helps people,” said Thueson. “(And) when I told her that she offered to have me help with the community conversation because she … knew that was something that they were going to be organizing.”

Hansen is a former legislative correspondent on Capitol Hill but after years of working there, she found that she did not enjoy the partisan way of thinking: writing to win instead of to understand.

Andra Smith-Hansen welcomes everyone to the Rexburg community conversation.

Andra Smith-Hansen welcomes everyone to the Rexburg community conversation. Photo credit: Chester Chan

Hansen then found that she had a passion for helping communities communicate and work together to solve their problems and make change. That is what inspired the idea of a community conversation.

“I think it’s beautiful to come into a room where you have people that are talking about what is often an issue that we use to judge each other or to reduce the humanity of someone you know, we do that a lot with stereotypes or stigma or whatever,” Hansen said. “But to be able to design it in such a way that that’s not what happens and instead we’re seeing the humanity and each other and we’re saying. ‘We should work together’ … to give somebody a better chance to succeed (with) really hard things like an addiction.”

Attendees of the Rexburg community conversation discuss issues regarding substance use disorder in the community.

Attendees of the Rexburg community conversation discuss issues regarding substance use disorder in the community. Photo credit: Chester Chan

Andra hopes to connect with the stakeholders who attended the event and work together with them to discover the next steps and take action to find solutions.

“You can make a difference,” said Hansen. “Be a change maker … Choose not to stereotype. Take time to listen, drop the judgment, … and really hear their story. I think once the heart changes a little bit, it puts you in a different frame of mind.”