Drug, alcohol forum set for this Saturday

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“Now I don’t know my neighbors anymore,” said organizer Larry Johnson. “Why don’t we try to bring in some new ideas and have people come in from the community?”

by Adam Gruenewald
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Organizers are hoping that a Saturday forum will help to inspire conversation in the community, create some interest in a rural Cologne church and address chemical and alcohol abuse.
Featuring a variety of different speakers, the Carver-Scott community forum will cover chemical and alcohol abuse in our lives, society, schools and families will be held from 1 to 3:30 p.m. this Saturday at West Union Lutheran Church, according to organizer Larry Johnson.
Johnson, 73, of Cologne, created the concept of a forum during the divisive 2016 presidential election.
“With all the politics on this side and that side you couldn’t have a decent discussion,” said Johnson. “Everybody’s minds are closed. I thought wouldn’t it be fun to put on a forum of new ideas.”
Wanting a place where ideas could be shared freely without repercussion, Johnson approached interim minister Dick Braun as well as other church and community members about creating a series of forums.
While the initial topics of death and dying were considered, a committee member shared her child’s experience of a lockermate getting caught with drugs at an area school and Johnson, and others, soon sensed that was the issue they wanted the forum to address.
Johnson, as well as fellow committee members Charles Heimark, Beth Muelenhardt, Kim Selken, Darcy Ackerberg and Jake Coleman, then worked to finalize the forum and recruit several area speakers in Scott and Carver County.
Johnson shared the issue has touched a family member personally and that experience affects him greatly.
“I’ve developed much more of a sense of what drug addiction and alcoholism is because of that,” he said. “I still don’t understand it, but I know it’s there. I can’t comprehend it. People involved in drugs – their minds don’t work at all. That drives them above anything else and logic goes out the window.”
A longtime farmer, recently retired ethanol consultant and a member of West Union Lutheran Church, Johnson said he got more into the forum than he expected as it developed from a series of monthly casual meetings to a sizable forum.
“This is a much bigger problem than I ever dreamed it was,” he said. “Prescription drugs are a much bigger problem than I thought too.”
Although Johnson underlined that the event is non-religious, he said the church, with a sizable add-on building project completed in 2005, will provide the right venue in a part urban and part rural location.
“When I grew up there were five kids my age and that was the extent of my social network,” he said of his childhood experiences in a one-room schoolhouse. “Now I don’t know my neighbors anymore. Why don’t we try to bring in some new ideas and have people come in from the community?”
Among the speakers are Scott County Judge Rex Stacey, Jason Arras of the Southwest Metro Drug Task Force, ISD 110 Youth Development Specialist Maureen Farrell, Hope Lutheran Pastor Steve Thompson of Jordan, speaker from the MN Teen & Adult Challenge, and as well as Michelle Rettner and Jimmy Astreich from Launch Ministry, the Chaska drop-in youth center.
Stacey, who was appointed by Governor Carlson in 1996, was instrumental in establishing Drug Court in Scott County and has worked closely with both law enforcement and the drug treatment community to address this problem.
In a press release, Arras said the Southwest Metro Drug Task Force that was established in 1986 to an agency working in Scott, Carver and McCloud Counties to educate the public while trying to stem the rising tide of drug related crimes.
“Are there drugs in our schools? Yes,” he said. “Pills are the most prevalent drug found in school today—and parents need to take ownership of this problem, because they’re coming from home.”
In addition to highlighting the  increasing frequency in which other drugs, like methamphetamine, cocaine, LSD and heroin, are showing up locally, along with measures parents need to take in order to become aware of and deal with these threats, Arras, also, cautioned the public from discounting marijuana as an ongoing threat.
“The task force seizes a lot of marijuana and it’s never by itself,” he said. “If the Legislature can prevent another drug from becoming readily available to alter the minds of our young people—that would be a good thing.”
While some of the speakers, such as Judge Stacey, will likely address all attendees of the forum, the initial plan is to split groups to encourage more informal discussions among youth and adults, before returning for a question and answer session in a large group.
While Johnson was excited about the possible attendance for the forum as well as the possibility of future forums and perhaps follow-up meetings or discussions on drugs and alcohol use, he is taking a wait-and-see approach.
“I would still like to do this either semi-annually or annually and put on an annual thing here where people would like to recognize this is a good place to share ideas and learn things about the topics of the day,” said Johnson. “We will leave our political correctness at the door. You can speak your mind here and we won’t allow arguing.”
The Carver-Scott community forum on chemical and alcohol abuse in our lives, society, schools and families will be held from 1 to 3:30 p.m.
Free refreshments and pizza will be served from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the program is good for 2.5 hours of continuing education units for teachers’ license renewals. West Union Lutheran Church, located at 15820 Market Avenue in Cologne. For more information, call 952-466-3363.

Follow Adam Gruenewald on Twitter @adamgruenewald.