Tim Ryan

On Feb. 3 at 6 p.m. Tim Ryan will speak at a banquet fundraiser for Sojourner's Journey in Sparta about the dangers of addiction and addiction recovery. Ryan himself is a recovering heroin addict and subject of the A&E documentary Dope Man. He will also speak to students at Tomah High School on Feb. 2.

Addiction recovery is a difficult task, but it can be done.

For two days speaker Tim Ryan, a former heroin addict who nearly lost everything to his addiction, will speak at two events in the Tomah area about the opiate epidemic, drug prevention and recovery.

Presented by Sojourner’s Journey and Gundersen Health System, Ryan, subject of the A&E documentary Dope Man and founder of the nonprofit A Man in Recovery Foundation, will speak to Tomah High School students Feb. 2 and at a banquet fundraiser for Sojourner’s Journey at Jake’s Northwoods in Sparta Feb. 3 at 6 p.m.

Katie Bennett, founder and president of Sojourner’s Journey, said Ryan will address an important topic in the community.

“I think everybody would agree that addiction has its claws pretty deep in our community, and this is an issue we can’t turn our head from in our community,” Bennett said. “He’s a recovered addict and not somebody your mind typically goes to − he was a successful businessman, he had a nice home, a successful company but he was a functioning addict and eventually it cost him his children, family and his home and then eventually prison. So he’s somebody who can truly understand the problems of addiction. He has been there, got through it and is incredibly passionate about helping people find resources for recovery.”

Ryan said his goal is to give hope to anyone who is struggling with addiction, connect them with resources and give them the tools to improve their situation and overcome the addiction.

“More people struggling out there than you can imagine,” he said. “The youngest I’ve worked with was 12 years old. It’s not just addiction, it’s bullying and trying to fit in. Kids feel so much pressure in life, so they turn to addiction. … The Just Say No program, DARE, it didn’t work; it was an utter failure ... so I (try to) instill hope, instill positive energy ... and address the opiate epidemic because nobody wants to talk about it.”

Bennett said it’s critical to inform young people about the consequences of drug abuse.

“I think the sooner we can start talking to our children about the danger of drugs, the better,” she said. “Drugs have become way more prevalent in the school system than they ever were before. I think the gift of (his) history to our youth can speak volumes.”

Bennett said when she began Sojourner’s Journey approximately six years ago, she was naive to the drug problem in the area. She didn’t realize until later that many of the women at the shelter were dealing with addiction.

“My perception of addiction before serving those women was pretty different, and my compassion has grown tremendously,” she said. “We tend to want to separate them from us, but these individuals are worth fighting for in our community and are remarkable individuals who can change our community if we can save them.”

It’s why Bennett chose to have Ryan speak at the fundraiser, which will also feature the testimonies of four women who have gone through the shelter.

Everyone is welcome to attend, Bennett said, and while there is a charge to attend the fundraiser, 30 tickets are available for free for those who can’t afford to attend but feel the need to hear Ryan’s story and the women’s testimonies, Bennett said.

The fundraiser, which includes a meal, seeks to raise funds for the possible change of location for the shelter, Bennett said.

“The county nursing home is located in Sparta, and that’s where we’re located, so we’re looking at some possible big changes for our organization, and fundraising is critical to keep our doors open,” she said. “With big changes on the horizon, we decided to host this additional fundraiser to help prepare for what’s next for us.”

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