Recovery Reinvented

A conversation with North Dakota’s First Lady

Madison Feltman, Editor-In-Chief

On Tuesday, Nov. 12, North Dakota’s First Lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum hosted her annual Recovery Reinvented event alongside North Dakota’s Governor Doug Burgum. Recovery Reinvented has been the First Lady’s main initiative whilst standing beside her husband. She has taken it upon herself to support and develop initiatives to help eliminate the stigma of addiction. 

“It [Recovery Reinvented] is an opportunity to gather together people, stakeholders, professionals, a wide variety of audiences, to focus on eliminating the stigma surrounding the disease of addiction,” Helgaas Burgum said. 

This year’s event entailed three major themes of eliminating the stigma surrounding addiction, building recovery support in corporations and connecting individuals and families that have been impacted by addiction with resources. 

Prior to the event, the Dakota Student was given the opportunity to sit down and have an open conversation with the First Lady surrounding addiction in North Dakota. As a recovering addict herself she has dedicated her time to this cause and conversation. 

“Those of us that are in recovery, understand that the best way to keep your recovery is to give it away, I have a huge passion for this work and for this event because it is a way to get so many people together who can really make a difference in our state,” Helgass Burgum said. “I know there is so much hope and possibility in recovery and that recovery is always possible, for someone who relapsed for eight years, I know there is hope.”

The event began with remarks from Governor Burgum and the First Lady where she shared her personal story. Following their remarks was the first speaker Gary Mendell, the founder and CEO of Shatterproof, a national nonprofit that works with the addiction crisis in America. 

“This is truly one of the best days of my life, the leadership of the Governor and the First Lady on this issue is an inspiration to me and I suspect many people across the state and is soon to be an inspiration across the country,” Mendall said. 

Throughout the event, several other prominent individuals that have been impacted with addiction shared their stories and their road to recovery such as Riley Salmon, three-time Olympian, 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist for USA Men’s Volleyball, and Head Coach for the Men’s Volleyball team at the University of Jamestown. Carol McDaid, principal at Capitol Decisions Inc. and Dr. Leander “Russ” Mcdonald, the current president of United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck. 

The event also announced the beginning of new programs including Families Strong, which is available as a free resources for interested citizens. The program focuses on helping families to build a support system and learn strategies to help a family member who is struggling with addiction. Another program that was introduced was the Workplace Recovery Initiative, which helps to provide employers with the resources necessary to help employees. 

Although Recovery Reinvented has passed, the conversation never ends, this is something that the First Lady wants to continually implement. One way in which she has made this possible is through the YES (Youth Ending Stigma) Challenge. The challenge implored North Dakota state schools to find new ways in which they as students can help to eliminate the stigma surrounding addiction. If chosen as a winner the schools are given $1,000 dollars to implement their ideas. 

“There is not enough opportunity for young people to talk about these things in their school or resources available to them,” Helgaas Burgum said. “I thought that even if schools don’t win at least the conversation is started.” 

Recovery Reinvented dedicated most of its time to focusing around the fact that addiction is a disease rather than a choice. This is a big part of why the conversation needs to be continued as it helps those who are in recovery to be successful. 

“It’s just getting the word out that addiction is a disease, it’s a brain disease, I think sometimes people don’t understand why people can’t just make the choice not to,” Helgaas Burgum said. “Once people realize it’s a disease, you can take that weight off your shoulders that it is your fault.” 

With continued conversation the First Lady along with the Governor hope to provide more help to recovering addicts and change the statistics. To learn more about Recovery Reinvented, watch event playback, and the First Lady’s story, visit