WORTHINGTON — Project Morning Star, a local residential recovery program, will celebrate its fifth anniversary with a fundraising breakfast and program Oct. 26 at American Reformed Church, Worthington.

Breakfast will be served from 9 to 10 a.m., with the program from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Tickets may be purchased in advance on Eventbrite, at Phileo's or The Daily Apple in downtown Worthington or at the door. Children under 12 can eat free with a paying adult. The breakfast includes pancakes, eggs, sausage, coffee, milk and juice.

Featured speaker Chris Alle will take the stage following the breakfast. Alle, who struggled with addiction, spent time in jail and was involved in gang-related activity, is now lead pastor of The Broken, a Willmar-based church.

“He is an amazing, profound speaker,” said Beth Hoekstra, director of operations for Project Morning Star, and event coordinator.

Chris Alle is the featured speaker at Project Morning Star Residential Recovery's fifth anniversary breakfast fundraiser Oct. 26, at American Reformed Church in Worthington. Alle is lead pastor of The Broken, a Willmar-based church. (Special to The Globe)
Chris Alle is the featured speaker at Project Morning Star Residential Recovery's fifth anniversary breakfast fundraiser Oct. 26, at American Reformed Church in Worthington. Alle is lead pastor of The Broken, a Willmar-based church. (Special to The Globe)
In addition to Alle’s talk, the hour-and-a-half-long program will include entertainment by local comedian Jonah Wright, half of the comedic duo Blessed Antics, and brief testimonials by present and past participants in the recovery program.

Throughout the morning, attendees may place bids on a variety of silent auction items.

This is the first fundraiser for Project Morning Star since it celebrated its first anniversary with a hog roast on the acreage where the residential recovery program is based in rural Worthington. Hoekstra said the goal is to establish an annual fundraiser to support scholarships for those needing financial assistance to join the recovery program.

“October is our anniversary and our goal is to have something every October,” she said, noting that Project Morning Star residents already assist with other fundraisers, such as selling pop and water and working at food booths during King Turkey Day. In addition, the organization applies for grants and welcomes donations. Recently, Project Morning Star received a $2,000 grant from Monogram Loves Kids, which will fund first-month rent for four individuals in need of scholarships.

Each resident in the program is required to pay $500 per month in rent, but if they are coming from prison or are homeless, they often aren’t able to make that first month’s rent, Hoekstra said. The scholarships are to give addicts a second chance at life through recovery.

Once in the program, residents work to get their life in order, and that includes finding a job and securing income. If they don’t have a way to get to work, transportation is provided for a fee. Residents also must pay for their own food.

“It costs us about $1,100 per resident, per month,” Hoekstra said, noting that in addition to housing, programming is also provided.

Breaking the cycle of addiction

In the five years since Project Morning Star opened its doors, the residential recovery program has been home to 48 women, 36 children and 60 men.

Of those, 34 women and 41 men have either successfully transitioned into the community or are residing at the site. Hoekstra said a successful transition means the individual has found appropriate housing, is employed and maintains sobriety.

Hoekstra said the men’s house is at capacity and there is a waiting list to get into the recovery program, while the women’s house is occupied by three women and four children, including an infant. Each house has a capacity of five adults.

Project Morning Star works with jails, prisons, probation agents, chemical dependency counselors and families to reach addicts who are ready to turn their life around.

There is an application process, and candidates for residency must meet specific criteria.

The No. 1 addiction for which residents are in Project Morning Star is alcohol, followed closely by methamphetamine, said Hoekstra, herself an opioid addict who found the help she needed in residential recovery.

In addition to being a safe haven away from fellow addicts, Project Morning Star offers programming for residents. They attend Celebrate Recovery on Wednesday evenings at Lakeside Church in Worthington, Faith and Finance through Love INC on Monday nights, Bible study on Thursdays and Step Study — one for men and one for women — that goes through the 12-step program. Each is also asked to attend church.

If work schedules don’t permit them to attend Celebrate Recovery, they must attend an Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous session each week, Hoekstra said. Some residents are also required to attend an outpatient treatment class in either Worthington or Luverne.

“We have house chores that everyone is responsible for every week,” added Lee Stewart, assistant director and house manager.

Program helping alcoholic get back on track

Joseph Milton has been a resident at Project Morning Star for the past two months. A native of Omaha, Neb., he was about 10 years old when he had his first alcoholic drink. He dabbled with alcohol in his teens with “co-conspirator friends” and realized his thirst for alcohol was a problem by the time he was 21.

“I was functioning in a way, but I lost jobs because I’d be in and out of prison due to DWI’s,” he shared. His routine was to go to work, then go to the bar to drink. He shouldn’t have tried to drive himself home, but he did so — time and time again.

After racking up half a dozen DWIs, his last leading to a three-year prison term, Milton said it was time for a change. He put himself into recovery at Project Morning Star.

“I got tired of going in and out (of jail),” Milton said. “I needed to correct it.

“I heard about Project Morning Star, I came here and I love it,” he added. “I gained Jesus Christ, a nice church, a good foundation of people, a step program, Celebrate Recovery; I’m accountable.”

Hoekstra said she’s noticed his increased confidence, while Stewart sees that Milton has higher self-esteem.

This week, Milton officially went from trainee to full-time employee at his new job in Worthington, and while he must stay in the recovery program for a minimum of three months, there’s some seriousness in his quip that he’d like to stay there forever.

“I’m going to be here for a while,” Milton said. “I’m just getting situated.”

“I believe the accountability of it and the programs you are active in helps you become successful and gain confidence,” he added. “It’s an open hand instead of kicking you back down.”

Stewart said recovery isn’t a cure, but rather a new way for addicts to cope with issues.

Hoekstra said there has never been a greater need for a community effort to stop the cycle of addiction for those struggling with substance abuse.

“Addicted people are parents, beloved children, loved ones, friends and colleagues,” she said. “Addiction is still highly stigmatized in American culture, but no longer can we afford to consider addicted people those people. They are our people.”

Studies have shown that addicts who reside at a sober living home for at least 90 days substantially increase their chances of enjoying continuous sobriety, Hoekstra noted, adding that each person who gains continuous sobriety reduces the number of fatal overdoses, DWIs, drug arrests and other negative consequences that result from addiction.

“Encouraging measures that keep addicted people sober makes our community safer, drives down the cost to taxpayers and lessens the odds that someone will lose a family member because of a fatal overdose or alcohol-related illness,” she said. “This is good news for everyone.”