MANKATO, Minn. — Nearing a year since Beyond the Brink sober house opened in Mankato, its organizers are brainstorming additional ways to help people in recovery.
The nonprofit quickly reached its six-woman capacity once it opened in a house on North Fourth Street across from Washington Park in October 2017. At least 10 more women are on the organization's waiting list.
Founder Brandy Brink said the sober house's first year has exceeded her expectations, to the point the nonprofit's board is exploring further support services in the region.
"I feel like we could have five more houses and be full," she said.
For people recovering from addiction, sober houses typically fill the gap between treatment and independent living. There aren't many existing ones in the region, which led Brink to explore adding the resource in Mankato. It took years to make it happen, she said, but she never gave up on the idea.
Eventually she'd like to open a sober house for men along with a longer-term housing option for women — the Fourth Street house is for individual women only. The nonprofit is also nearing state approval to train certified peer recovery specialists to work with clients coming out of inpatient treatment. Brink expects between nine and 12 specialists to be trained locally within the next six months, the Mankato Free Press reported.
Support plans for clients are highly individualized. Brink said what worked for her isn't necessarily what would work for others, so she and house manager Brooke Hobbs work with the women to identify their specific needs.
Clients are expected to attend support groups and work, volunteer and/or mentor during the week. They also need to demonstrate they want to seek sobriety in order to stay there — if not, treatment might be a better option.
"We're not here to convince you that you're an addict or that your life needs to change," Brink said. "If you need that convincing, it's probably not the right place."
Brink, in recovery herself, has experience in property management. Her connections in the industry helped her find housing when she needed it post treatment, but she knows others aren't as fortunate.
She established connections with local property managers willing to take letters of recommendation from the nonprofit in lieu of background checks. Given how many people in recovery have criminal records, the arrangement can remove one of the major barriers the women would face in finding stable housing.
Hobbs, also in recovery, said she's the one who researches any and all new local resources for the women. When affordable or public housing options are announced or near completion, she takes it upon herself to motivate the women to submit applications.
She said the passion Brink showed for the sober house — even when it was just an idea — made it hard not to get involved. She described Beyond the Brink as more of a help to her than she is to it.
"It's reminding me of the beginning, which I'm so far away from," she said.
She and Brink both acknowledge they don't have all the answers. That's not what they're there for. What they can do is draw from their own experiences when their clients need to talk to someone.
Angi Suess, who has lived in the house since June, said having people you can relate to in recovery is invaluable. She called Brink and Hobbs role models, while her housemates provide essential support as well.
"I'm still working on a lot of things with myself," she said, "but it's great knowing they're a phone call or a text away if need be."
Housemate Emilie Perkins wrote via text the sober house provides the support system she hasn't had before. After her release from incarceration, she said she's not sure she'd still be sober without the additional support she found at Beyond the Brink.
"Words cannot adequately express how grateful I am that this sober house exists and for the people responsible for helping make this all possible for me," she said.
Donations and state funding will help sustain the nonprofit. Beyond the Brink is partnering with House of Hope for its first community event and fundraiser September 29 in Spring Lake.
The Walk for Recovery is as much about connecting people in recovery to community resources as it is about raising funds, Brink said. The event will also serve as the nonprofit's formal introduction to the community.
Although spots are limited, Brink encouraged people to learn more about the sober house and the upcoming event at www.beyondbrink.com.
Suess said she hopes more women receive the help she found at the sober house. She was blunt when asked what she might've done if Beyond the Brink wasn't there.
"I'd probably be dead," she said. "I'd be back using, I know that."
An AP Member Exchange shared by the Mankato Free Press.