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Blugold tackles addiction issues through service-learning

| Lucy Grogan-Ripp

“You are stronger than you know, braver than you believe, and smarter than you think you are.”

This is the mantra you will find plastered across the website for Coulee Recovery Center, an addiction rehabilitation center located in La Crosse, WI.

The center focuses on these ideals in all that they do, and nobody can attest to this dedication better than Claire Guentner, a psychology major currently in her senior year at UW-Eau Claire.

This past summer, Guentner completed her service-learning project at Coulee Recovery Center, where she served as an intern for their drug and alcohol recovery community.

“When thinking about how I wanted to satisfy my service learning hours, Coulee Recovery Center immediately came to mind,” Guentner said. After finding the internship opening posted on the center’s website, Guentner met with a career counselor in the Advising, Retention & Career Center (ARCC) on campus to help guide her through the application process.

Guentner noted that, of the many community needs associated with addiction and recovery, one of the main demands that she focused on was food shortages.

“A typical day would begin in the morning preparing lunch with cooks and volunteers…The need for warm meals, as well as a food pantry, was present in the community, and something that the Coulee Recovery Center offers every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday,” Guentner recalled.

“I worked with other volunteers as well as staff to provide lunches to those using Coulee Recovery Center's services, as well as stocking and supervising the food pantry. Through this work, I learned how partners in the community work together to provide food free of charge to the recovering community; I learned the process that the food takes from local grocery stores and community gardens to Hunger Task Force, who distributes food to Coulee Recover Center as well as other locations, all free of charge,” Guentner said.

When she wasn’t busy preparing meals and stocking pantries for those in need, Guentner attended open AA meetings to learn about and connect with the recovery community.

She noted, “By attending open AA and Get Your Loved Ones Sober meetings, I learned of the large impact Coulee Recovery makes on the La Crosse community and why there is a need for such a service.”

In addition to attending recovery meetings, Guentner also supervised the activity center at Coulee. The center serves as a communal place where people at a variety of stages in their recovery can meet others, find resources, and relax with books, games, and television.

On top of her various and dynamic responsibilities at the center, Guentner crafted a presentation on the history of Coulee that would later be presented at a ribbon cutting ceremony in celebration of the center’s 50th anniversary, at the grand opening of their new building.

Being a part of the big move to their new building, Guentner says, was by far the most memorable experience from her service-learning project.

“Although I was only there for a short 3 months, I understood how much a new building meant for the employees and members…It signified the immense growth and impact that Coulee Recovery Center has had on the La Crosse community and a new hope for a continuation of providing services to the recovery community. I was so thankful that I was able to be a part of such a large-scale accomplishment and witness the joy and excitement it brought to those at Coulee Recovery Center,” Guentner commented.

Through it all, serving as an intern at Coulee not only helped Guentner make a impact on her community, but the community also made an impact on her.

Guentner noted, “Interning at Coulee Recovery Center had a significant and incredible impact on me. I was immersed in a community of people that I would have not been able to experience without the internship. Every day I was learning from others about addiction and recovery and diminished any preconceived notions I may have had. I developed a new understanding and awareness of those recovering or still fighting with addiction and have now incorporated that into my daily life. I was overwhelmed by the constant presence of hope, friendship, triumph, and a welcoming attitude that the people at Coulee Recovery Center radiated.”

Guentner’s experience at Coulee Recovery Center serves as yet another example of the remarkable two-way impact that service-learning has on communities near and far.

After all, it is Blugolds like Guentner who work to remind us that you are stronger than you know, braver than you believe, and smarter than you think you are.