MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — All day on Wednesday, WCCO is hosting a phone bank as part of the “Trees of Hope” series.

WCCO is raising funds for Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge (MnTC).

The group helps thousands of people overcome drug addiction and lead healthy and productive lives. The program also focuses on prevention in Metro area schools, with stories from the very patients they serve.

Kaitlyn Arneson, 24, is one of the MnTC staff members traveling from school to school to share her story. She knows her story may not sound like it was heading toward addiction, but addiction can impact anyone.

“I actually graduated high school with a 3.9 GPA and had a full ride to a private university in St. Paul,” she said.

Arneson tells students inside a Prior Lake High School classroom that even people with everyday problems can struggle with addiction.

“I wasn’t abused, I didn’t have traumatic childhood so I didn’t feel like I could talk about things,” she said. “The things I struggle with seemed so insignificant.”

Growing up with two loving parents in Blaine, Arneson started partying with friends on the weekends in high school.

She said she was experimenting with alcohol and marijuana for years, but during the school week she kept up appearances. This was the type of double life she knows teens often lead without their parents catching on.

Arneson’s drug use eventually got her kicked out of college. She said she continued to say ‘yes’ to using new drugs until she ended up with a heroin addiction that was costing her $300.00 a day.

One night of partying changed everything.

“Unfortunately, that night my best friend overdosed and died in front of me,” Arneson told a class of students. “I performed CPR on her until paramedics arrived, but by the time they got there it was too late.”

Arneson did not want to end up dead. She shared that she has three felony charges against her and was facing 10 years in prison. A judge allowed Arneson to come to MnTC instead. She completed the program and has now been sober for four years.

She credits MnTC for giving past clients opportunities for employment because it is difficult for anyone with a significant criminal record to be considered for many opportunities.

“I have gaps in employment, haven’t finished my degree. It isn’t attractive for an employer,” Arneson said.

Arneson says she’s grateful to be able to provide for her 18-month-old son Louis, and grateful to be alive.

“You might not think this can happen to you but no one does,” she said. “No one thinks ‘I want to become a drug addict someday.'”

Arneson wants to continue education teens about how drug addiction can become reality for anyone at any age.

“Every time I said ‘yes’ it became a lot easier to say yes than it was to say no, and that’s my story.”

Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge relies mostly on private donations to help people ages 14 and up across the state through short-term programs as well as 13-month faith-based programs.

There are programs that are not faith-based available or open to different faiths.

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