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Turnabout marks milestone

This aerial view shows the Project Turnabout and Vanguard residential treatment facilities and campus on the west edge of Granite Falls. A July 2000 tornado had destroyed much of the campus, but it was rebuilt without missing a beat. Submitted

GRANITE FALLS -- Project Turnabout began with resources so meager that its first administrator made an old door and two sawhorses his desk.

Its first home was space leased in a former tuberculosis sanatorium where both heat and water were sometimes iffy propositions.

There were plenty of times when patients gathered for group sessions around a smoky fireplace wearing their jackets to ward off the chill, according to a history assembled by one of the chemical dependency center's counselors, the late Bruce Bottge.

As the organization marks its 40th anniversary, Project Turnabout is looking back and celebrating just how far it has come since its was incorporated in November of 1970.

The 89-bed, residential treatment facility for chemical dep-endency and compulsive gambling is nearly brand new.

The multi-building campus was completely rebuilt after a tornado in July 2000 flattened its then-remodeled structures on the western end of Granite Falls.

Mike Schiks, chief executive officer and executive director of the nonprofit center, is also using the 40th anniversary to point out how much has remained the same.

"What we do is treat the whole person,'' said Schiks in reference to the center's treatment philosophy.

No different than when it was organized as Reverence for Life and Concern for People Inc., Project Turnabout remains a leader in the Minnesota model of addiction care, which is based on a team approach originally developed at the Willmar Regional Treatment Center.

Schiks said Turnabout maintains an enviable 1-to-7 ratio of counselors to patients.

Its staff of 130 full- and part-time workers ranges from on-site nursing and mental health professionals to a chaplain and recreational specialist.

Project Turnabout also remains committed to caring for all those in need of help, no matter how limited their resources. Its costs for residential treatment are among the most economical available today, he said, due to a commitment to focus resources on patients and to minimize administrative costs. Its treatment costs are less than $9,000 for a 30-day residential program, which is roughly one-third that of some other private institutions.

To help those in need, Project Turnabout raised more than $700,000 during the past five years. Donations -- often dribbling in as small, $10 and $20 checks from alumni and family members -- made it possible to help more than 1,100 people through those years, according to Mark Sannerud, director of development and outreach.

With its residential facility in Granite Falls and outreach programs in both Willmar and Marshall, Project Turnabout serves approximately 1,400 people a year for chemical and gambling addictions, according to Schiks.

He can only guess at how many people have been served since its start in 1970. The tornado destroyed its records.

Project Turnabout was able to continue in the aftermath of that tornado by moving its operations to the former Regional Treatment Center buildings in Willmar until its Granite Falls campus could be rebuilt. Its history includes many stories of rebounding from adversity, but no story is more important that the thousands of lives made better by the care it extended, according to Schiks.

He said Project Turnabout's success stories are largely unknown for the simple fact that anonymity remains central to addiction care.

As to the question of how effective treatment is, Schiks said the answer is "in the bricks.

"We wouldn't be here if what we did wasn't effective.''

The need to be effective remains as important today as in 1970. Schiks said every generation needs to be educated anew about the harms of addiction and the potential of treatment.

The challenges today may even be greater, he noted. Drugs and alcohol remain readily available. There is greater variety. And, the potency of many drugs in widespread use has increased as their costs have decreased.

About two-thirds of those being treated for chemical dependency are male and one-third female. Men and women are represented equally in treatment for compulsive gambling, said Schiks.

The age at which people are first experimenting with alcohol and other drugs continues to be younger, but one thing has remained constant. In way too many cases, treatment is not provided until the illness has progressed to the point that the person has dug a very deep hole in his or her life, said Schiks.

It's a very sad fact in light of the reality that for every $1 invested in treatment, $7 is prevented in the harm, he explained.

Schiks said he believes Project Turnabout will see "careful growth'' in the years ahead.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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