“We just said, ‘Hey, does anybody want to do something for somebody who can’t do anything for you?'”
That’s how Randy Byrge describes his outreach to members of the local community when a recovery client needed help.
The situation: A Scott County man who had been addicted to drugs for years had gone to rehab in Texas — Roloff Home Ministries, the same place where Byrge successfully went through a treatment program a decade ago — was returning home after nine months in the program.
“It had gotten to the point that he didn’t have a couch to sleep on, he didn’t have anywhere else to go,” Byrge said of the man’s decision to enter treatment. “All of his resources had run out. He had absolutely nothing.”
Left with nowhere to turn, the man decided to try treatment last year, during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. He made a phone call to S.T.A.N.D., and S.T.A.N.D. — Byrge’s employer — got him a bed at the Corpus Christi, faith-based rehab center.
“We told him, ‘Hey, you complete this thing,'” Byrge said. But everyone had their doubts.
“This man had been doing drugs a long time,” Byrge said. “It was one of those cases where everybody thought, ‘He’ll never do it.’ We had our doubts too, right? But we still try to connect people and still try to give them the same opportunity as people we think are going to do good. Because you never know who’s going to make it. And he went down there and did excellent.”
When the man came back to Scott County after nine months away, he was sober, but still had nowhere to turn to — no place to live, no couch to sleep on. So, Byrge turned to Facebook. He turned to what he affectionately refers to as the “But God Army.”
Ten years ago, the response might not have been a positive one. The stigma that accompanies addiction has long caused addicts to be treated as outcasts rather than as people who need help, a mindset that S.T.A.N.D. and its executive director, Trent Coffey, have worked feverishly to change since even before Byrge came on board.
But in 2021, the response was overwhelming.
“Me and my 66-year-old dad were out picking up couches, love seats, recliners, all the way down,” Byrge said. “Some people didn’t have money, but they came in and helped us. Some people said, ‘Hey, what about food? He’s not working; can we stock his refrigerator up?'”
It got to the point that Byrge had to take the Facebook post down, because there were too many responses offering to help. And when the man rolled back into his hometown, he found a welcome befitting someone who was returning from war.
“When it was all said and done, within a matter of days this community came together and this man, when he came in and he seen this place (he has to live), he cried. Because he’s got a home. He’s got somewhere to lay his head down. A nice comfortable place.”
The key, Byrge said, is that nobody expected anything in return for their generosity. They simply wanted to help.
“All he had to do was stay sober in his hometown and be able to ease into that,” Byrge said.
But the good news didn’t stop there. The man started work at a new job earlier this month.
“He’s responsible for all his bills now,” Byrge said. “We think that’s a big thing. It’s not just giving people things.”
Byrge said recovering addicts who are able to become contributing members of society again are a big success story.
“I can line up 20 people that can come right here and tell you that they bought their kids groceries this week, and they bought their kids clothes this week, and they got to got to their kids’ graduation this week, and they got to go to the swimming pool,” Byrge said. “Listen, that’s what it’s all about. They are a part of society again, and they don’t want to go back to that old mess. That’s stronger than I think a lot of people think about.”
The Independent Herald asked Byrge whether the willingness of the community to help people who have nothing to offer in return is a sign that the stigma of drug addiction is changing.
“Definitely,” Byrge said. “One person at a time.”
But it’s just a start, he added. The key is the entire community coming on board. Byrge dreams of the day when there’s a treatment facility in Scott County, so that people don’t have to travel halfway across the country to find help.
“The truth is I can’t do it,” he said. “The truth is it’ll take the pillars of the community to get the rest of the community involved.”
Especially important, he added, is buy-in from the faith community.
“We might go to different churches, we might act a little different, but we can all sit in the room together and help each other,” he said. “We want to get the business men and the business women of this community together to sit in a room and say, ‘Hey listen, your mind and my mind think differently, but we just want to help people.
“We can fix a lot of this,” Byrge added. “We’re never going to completely get drugs out of Scott County. But we can help a lot of people.”
The man who returned from Texas with nothing and found a community of people waiting to help him is a good start, Byrge said.
“It was amazing to be able to watch all those people come together,” he said. “Nobody asked for nothing. Nobody even knew the man’s name. Nobody cared. Everybody just wanted to help somebody who they knew had gone out and tried to better his life. It was awesome to watch.”