New local website, campaign promotes substance use recovery

Grand Rapids Red Project.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As the deadly use of substances such as heroin continue to rise, one West Michigan non-profit is taking new steps to welcome people into the recovery process.

The Grand Rapids Red Project said that the stigmas associated with substance use and receiving treatment are often why many people hesitate to seek help.

The group launched a new online resource database Thursday morning live on Daybreak. It provides easy access to a comprehensive list of helpful tools including local substance use treatment options and recovery support systems.

Red Project officials are also launching a marketing campaign called “I’m in” which puts faces on the process of recovery.


Sarah Vanfleteren, 27, smiled as she talked about her journey through recovery.

“I’m coming up on 17 months of substance free,” she told 24 Hour News 8.

She’s proud of the momentum she’s built so far and happy to be one of the faces of the new “I’m in” campaign.

“I’m so excited for the site,” she said. “It give individuals access to different routes of recovery. That makes me so, so happy because looking back in my journey, I was always told there was one solution.”

For Sarah, the launch of the new website and resources is all about dispelling the misconceptions of substance use.

Brian Keeley, the development coordinator at Red Project, said that change starts with your words.

“Like addiction, like addict, like user,” he explained. “When we use those labels, first and foremost, we take away the aspect that they are a person.”

Sarah says she received a dual diagnosis as a child and started taking medication at the age of 12.

“Alcohol and heroin — those are my two biggest offenders,” Sarah said.

She’s successfully battling substance use disorder, but she says misconceptions and societal shame made it tougher.

“It had nothing to do with intelligence, it had nothing to do with my morals by any means,” she said. “I didn’t feel well. I think everyone in humanity wants to feel good, and I didn’t feel good. So I found something that made me feel good.

Sarah wants people to know this issue crosses borders of gender, ethnicity, economics and much more.

“I look back at my times when I was struggling the most [and] I was an honor student I was nominated number one server of the year and promoted to manager. So those suffering from substance use disorder — they don’t come in this box that people would like it to.”

Besides recovery services, Sarah said that her spirituality played a big role in her recovery process.


Douglas Hulst, 44, recently celebrated two years of living alcohol free and is one of the faces of the new campaign.

“Labor Day weekend 2014 was my starting point for my own life of sobriety and my own lifestyle of recovery,” explained Hulst. “I’m that guy that I thought that I never would become an alcoholic and I would never develop a substance use issue with alcohol, but I did.”

The Zeeland native told 24 Hour News 8 that before September 2014, his battle with substance use disorder began to take over his life.

He said that there was heavy use of alcohol on both sides of his family growing up.

What began as a social and celebratory pastime, slowly-developed into substance use disorder over a 5 to 10 year period, Hulst explained.

“It became ‘I’m drinking all weekend long – Friday night Saturday night – all day Sunday and oh no… now I’m drinking Monday evening as soon as I get home from work so I don’t have the pain of withdrawal,'” Hulst said.

However since becoming alcohol free, Hulst has rediscovered passions that had dropped by the wayside such as reading and visiting Lake Michigan.

He credits his compassionate family intervention, which took place over Labor Day weekend in 2014, with breaking the barriers that once blocked him from his path of recovery.

Now he has joined the Grand Rapids Red Project’s efforts to help others do the same.

“Let’s show the world there’s a huge opportunity for recovery out there that you may not be aware of,” Hulst said. “This website is actually, perhaps, a starting point that you never knew you had to get into that.”



Grand Rapids Red Project

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