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Working Together Coalition coordinator, Rogosheske, gets reacquainted with her hometown of Pine River

Upon becoming coordinator of the Working Together Coalition, Heather Rogosheske is getting reintroduced to the community where she grew up. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

In 2004, Heather Rogosheske (then Frederick) graduated from Pine River-Backus High School and prepared to learn floral design at Central Lakes College.

She once considered going into social work, but she wasn't ready to leave home - the cozy place just four houses away from the Pine River-Backus School building. Floral design, however, wasn't everything she wanted, so she fell back to the profession that she had once considered and attended Bemidji State University for her degree in social work.

"I lived in Hackensack and commuted back and forth to Bemidji as sort of a non-traditional student," Rogosheske said.

After college she worked with the Sanford Health Center for three years managing discharge planning, substance abuse cases and mental health. It was there she decided to make a change.

"I kind of got to a point where I wanted to be on the other end of the spectrum, kind of helping people with substance abuse, helping them not to get to that point," Rogosheske said. "You see so many tragedies and so many families hurting and how it affects everyone."

Rogosheske decided to pursue a job focused on preventing substance abuse and addiction, rather than treating it. She applied to the Working Together Coalition and was hired Feb. 28 as coordinator to rejuvenate the program that will allow her to possibly prevent life-altering addictions.

Rogosheske said 10 years of working in a bar followed by her time at Sanford exposed her particularly to the horrors of alcoholism.

"As a whole I think we tend not to talk about alcohol use," Rogosheske said. "It's kind of a common social norm. That was one thing I struggled with. People would come in and they would have lifelong alcoholism. Nobody wanted to talk about it because it was just alcohol. Truly it was a life-threatening thing they were dealing with. I think seeing people come in to be intubated and put in ICU for days because they were a chronic alcoholic was kind of an eye opener for me. To think that some people say, 'It's just alcohol.' Alcohol can be just as bad for us as other drugs."

At Sanford, Rogosheske also learned firsthand that abuse issues exist across all demographics.

"You saw everything from people in their 20s or younger to people who were 100," Rogosheske said. "It was kind of all spectrums of life. When it came to people using or drinking, it didn't have anything to do with social class or age. It affected everybody."

The Working Together Coalition program brought Rogosheske back to the Pine River community after some years away for college and work. She found that many of the local community leaders, clergy, school superintendent, governing officials and others had changed. She still had plenty of local connections, but Rogosheske said her new job offered her the opportunity to get reacquainted.

"That's what I've really enjoyed the last month," Rogosheske said. "I've gotten to know a lot of new people and I like that about being in a community - when you know the people and you can have a personal relationship with them. There's something empowering about knowing people in your community."

Rogosheske said growing up in Pine River where her father - ambulance driver and firefighter Kenny Frederick - was well-known may have instilled in her the values that led her to work in social work and substance abuse prevention.She says he was caring, and community members turned to him for help.

"I think that was instilled in me there - that caring," Rogosheske said. "He would have given the shirt off his back to someone."

Developing relationships is also the key to success in Rogosheske's career. Though substance prevention once focused on fear tactics, statistics say such events as mock crashes aren't as effective as newer programs.

"The statistics show us what things do work, like healthy relationships and equipping our kids to make those safe decisions and giving them resources," Rogosheske said.

For that reason, Rogosheske hopes to renew compliance check programs and to encourage teachers from the school to attend the Be the Change conference in Walker. Rogosheske said both programs are designed to integrate more adults into prevention efforts. She is also looking for more opportunities for youth communications and involvement.

The battle to reduce substance abuse and dependencies is personal to Rogosheske and her husband, Dan.

"I have kids in the school district and I would like to have the schools continue to be a safe place for the kids and be healthy and know how to use skills to not get themselves into bad situations or make bad decisions," she said.

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