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A ski team with a special bond

December 19, 2013
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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Alumni services can play a large and impactful role in an addiction treatment facility – alumni gather together for support or leisure activities, they may serve as mentors to current clients at the treatment facility that helped them, and they bring with them perspectives and experiences that only those who have gone through addiction and recovery can possess.

Two years ago staff at Harmony Foundation (Estes Park, Colo.) were discussing alumni and realized that there weren’t many events that attracted alumni from multiple treatment facilities. “We were all functioning separately,” says Marvin Ventrell, director of community and alumni relations at Harmony. While he says that it is indeed important for a facility to have its own alumni group, his team also finds it significant to have a broader fellowship.

As the Harmony staff began to think about how they could help meet this need, they decided it was only fitting (since the facility is located in the Rocky Mountains) to host a skiathon. “There’s beautiful ski towns here where individuals can stay the weekend in a warm, lodge setting and feel the power of recovery together,” says Ventrell.

The event is targeted to people in recovery who have graduated from treatment programs, but it expands beyond that as well—families of alumni and staff of treatment centers are also welcomed. The first skiathon occurred in early 2013 and the staff wasn’t quite sure what to expect. “You’re always worried when you have a party that maybe no one will come,” Ventrell explains. “We just decided to do it and it worked out great.”

The event brought together about 100 people and had many organizations join in on the planning and event details. He says the majority of the people who participated in the 2013 event were from treatment centers in the region, but there was also a handful of people that made the journey from California, Florida, Texas and New York. Ventrell also said that the turnout included mostly alumni but some spouses and children of program alumni also joined in on the fun.

The people made the event what it was—they were honest and shared their experiences from various places of recovery. Because of this, Ventrell says the weekend was “so powerful” and “left us no doubt that we would do it again.” The second skiathon will take place Feb. 6 to 9 in Breckenridge. The weekend-long event includes 12-Step meetings, comedy shows, live musical entertainment, movies, and of course everything that involves snow—snowboarding, skiing, tubing, dog sledding, etc.

Also included is a “Living Large in Sobriety Keynote Address” which will feature Alcoholics Anonymous speaker Mary V. from Denver. The music will be provided by Kathy Moser and the Promises Collective. Harmony tries to keep the cost to a minimum by only charging $25 per registration. This includes all of the entertainment, meetings, and snacks. The expense that participants will incur is the travel and lodging, but Ventrell says the organization works to get people discounted rates.

All money collected from registration fees goes directly to planning the event, and the costs far exceed what is received, Ventrell notes. He laughs as he mentions that coffee is by far the most expensive part of the program, so the money mainly goes to pay for that.

The biggest challenge when hosting an event that gathers together alumni from multiple treatment programs is “recognizing that there’s plenty of room for all of us,” says Ventrell. Although in some sense, different programs are competitors in the business, “it takes a village to do this work and when we come together and collaborate, it really works.”

While everyone has their own treatment centers to promote, he believes that when organizations come together to promote recovery with all the names attached to it, it’s a good thing for everyone. Various organizations stepped forward to collaborate with Harmony Foundation to make the 2014 event possible. These organizations include Dominion Diagnostics, The Rose House, Valley Hope Association, A New Path, Sober Living in Delray, Foundations Recovery Network, Shadow Mountain Recovery, Addiction Recovery Consulting, Elements Behavioral Health, Burning Tree, Carla Vista, and CeDAR. Additionally, the fairly new association TPAS (Treatment Professionals in Alumni Services) has come forward for the second year in a row to help serve its mission of brining alumni together.

Ventrell, who serves on the board for TPAS, says that while individuals who are in an initial 30-day treatment program do not come to the event because it would be “too soon,” there are individuals who participate in the skiathon from extended care facilities. For example, women from The Rose House hosted a spaghetti dinner during the 2013 meeting and will be doing the same again in 2014. These women are in a 90-day aftercare program after having graduated from a treatment program and are accompanied by staff members from The Rose House.

A large group of Harmony staff members attend because “it’s a big deal for us,” says Ventrell. Staff members from treatment centers across the country are also encouraged to participate in the event as well. He says this is a great way to recognize any employees of treatment programs, but especially the ones who work with alumni.