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Rising to the Occasion

The Phoenix fuels resilience and encourages the power of connection

July is often the unpleasant segue to fire season—flames spewing flaky ash into a seemingly permanent ocean of orange-hued sky. But with chaos and peril comes the chance to rebuild, replant, recollect. Fire season, however undesirable it is, can offer a second chance in the aftermath.

Through a program called The Phoenix, people in recovery can get a second chance, too. The nationwide non-profit aims to help them return to health through activities and social events. Dani Standley, Program Coordinator of the Missoula chapter, has seven years of addiction counseling experience and loves working with members. “This is my passion,” she said. “That trust piece with people—the vulnerability that they share—it makes it a privilege to work with them.”

As a Missoula local, Dani knows how the outdoors plays a big part in our community. When considering which activities to offer, hiking was a no-brainer.

“The Phoenix organization wants their chapter in each town to match that community, so hiking is a great fit. We gather as a group of individuals in recovery but that’s not the focus on the trail,” said Dani. “It’s time away from those labels. We’re just out there together, socializing and having fun. Although, sometimes I have to try really hard not to put my therapy hat on,” said Dani.

The intensity of the hikes is always secondary to the relationships developed along the way. Friends, family, and allies can come along, too.

“We want to make it as accessible as possible so that anyone feels like they can join in. It doesn't have to be super strenuous or hard to make a difference,” said Dani. In fact, getting active can spark transformation. “They don't even know it's happening but their brain and body are healing. Brain chemistry is changing along with body chemistry and it all equals emotional wellness,” said Dani. “They can heal the vision of themselves as worthy and confident individuals. Once that seed is planted, they begin to operate from a different place. That’s when we see their actions beginning to align with their positive life goals,” said Dani.

Erika Spaulding began volunteering as a hike leader after meeting Dani at a recovery center. “I had spent some time with Dani while supporting my older sister's journey through recovery. My sister Haley has been my biggest inspiration to live and love life, despite the many challenges that we all face,” said Erika.

Erika’s first outing as a hike leader exemplified the encouragement embedded in every Phoenix event.

“I felt almost like a child, going to my first day of school. How would I lead a group of strangers and bring everyone together, especially when we are all on such a different journey? I called my sister to ask for advice. She gave me a few pointers and reassured me it would all work out. She was right. It did,” said Erika. “I walked away from our first hike feeling humbled and grateful that every member had felt comfortable being vulnerable in sharing with me their personal journey. After all, we are all overcoming something,” said Erika.

In addition to hiking, The Phoenix hosts other activities that attract an array of members.

“We have all sorts of people at our events, from returning citizens in pre-release to professionals in our community,” said Dani. “Some of our most popular events are basketball and bowling. When they’re on the court, just playing ball and egging each other on, the playing field is even. When we bowl, everyone is cheering for each other. I remember one bowling night when a member showed up about an hour and a half late. When they arrived, everybody made a big point of welcoming them. We decided to play an extra game.”

Many activities means many chances to volunteer. “Volunteers are the backbone of our organization. We literally couldn't do what we do without them,” said Dani. “Anyone can volunteer. You don't have to be in recovery. Even if it's close to your heart, that's wonderful! No matter your relationship with recovery or where you live or what activity you enjoy, our message is, ‘Come as you are with what you have at any given day.’ Whatever that looks like, we just want to hang out with you.”

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