From alcohol to the misuse of opioids, addiction issues are a national crisis. In 2017, more than 900 people died from opioid overdoses in Wisconsin alone.
After seeing little significant change in the rate of addiction in Wisconsin, WisHope formed to help change that. In 2019, the organization began providing resources, education, and support to Wisconsin communities and individuals impacted by addiction and mental health issues. The organization uses a community approach, which seeks to connect people with local health resources across the state through peer recovery coaching and a one-stop website.
Finding the right help can be confusing, no matter where in Wisconsin you live. What makes WisHope different is the foundation of utilizing people with lived addiction and recovery experience taking part in the connection of resources to someone in need according to Peter Brunzelle, the executive director.
"Sometimes we're not always gathering all the pieces that are needed to support a human in whatever crisis is going on in their life," he notes. "This is just one of those pieces that wasn't being focused on for a long time. So, how can we gather the forces and bring people together that have that foundation in their own recovery and train them and have them on the front lines to help people looking for recovery?"
Brunzelle started his own recovery when he was 18. It was 1994, and he was a self-described "product of the system." After finding recovery while serving a couple of years at the county jail, Brunzelle recalls always wondering how he could help. However, "it took a lot of growing up before I was able to step to the front lines and be able to be that person to be able to help other people," he says.
Also, WisHope is presenting its first HOPE Festival Saturday evening at the Carroll College Shadduck Auditorium, featuring Greg Koch & The Koch-Marshall Trio & Willy Porter. Brunzelle says that in the midst of constant struggle and tragedy within opioid and substance use, it's important to also honor life, joy, community, and family.
"Every family that I know is touched by [addiction] in some way. So, just participating in something and taking some music into a situation where we really are celebrating the hopeful side, the other side, that new leaf that you turn over and what you see in how relationships change. I just can't celebrate that enough," says local musician Willy Porter.
Porter gave up drinking almost four years ago, and he wants others to know that "there is another world, and there is another way of existing that is fantastic without that aspect in my life."
Fellow musician Greg Koch has also been in recovery for "many a 24-hour," as he says. He felt that in order to be a musician you also had to be "a seasoned debaucherist."
Koch says that he's grateful that his own recovery didn't involve any relapses, but he empathizes with how difficult it is to find help.
"You're alone, if you're a parent or the person themselves, and you reach out you find out in a hurry that the alternatives are few and extraordinarily pricey and it's just horrific," he says. "So to know there's something like [WisHope] available is massive ... It's not something that just happens once — you keep at it for a lifetime."