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When the world closed its doors and everyone sheltered at home this spring, one group was particularly affected by the ban on gatherings: people in recovery.

Those on the road to sobriety thrive off group support, and Recover Wyoming is the only federally recognized recovery organization of its kind in the state. That’s why employees and board members of the nonprofit say it’s more important than ever to support Recover Wyoming, and the public can do so by attending its Country Cajun Fest on Sept. 18 at The Chinook Drive-In at Terry Bison Ranch.

The event is a new twist on the group’s annual Cajun Fest, and the biggest difference is that to abide by social distancing protocols, it’ll be drive-in style.

“It kind of reminds me of the old drive-in restaurants, where people would drive up with their cars and eat some food,” said Recover Wyoming Executive Director Milward Simpson. “This is our special take on what’s been a really popular annual tradition with Cajun Fest. We wanted to try to retain all of the key features of this event, but do it in a socially distant, responsible way.”

The evening will still offer its signature cajun food, prepared by caterer Amy Epstein, but this year’s menu will be slightly modified to reflect the country vibe of the event venue – Simpson said to expect options such as a grilled beef burger, cajun shrimp burger, andouille sausage, Louisiana cajun chips, low country coleslaw, mac and cheese and caramel pecan cake.

When attendees drive into the venue, they’ll be greeted by a volunteer who will hand them two giveaways – Mardi Gras-style beads and a bandana that can double as a face mask – as well as silverware and a garbage bag for any trash accumulated during their meal. Another volunteer will then guide them to where they should park, and once the clock strikes 6 p.m., guests can leave their cars to grab their food and bring it back.

Guests will then eat their Southern-inspired meal in their cars while listening to Cajun music that will be played through the drive-in’s audio system. Dinner is served until 7 p.m., when guests will then be able to partake in a live auction and listen to several inspiring speakers, who will be projected on the big screen.9-4

To make the fundraiser even more spirited, organizers encourage guests to decorate their cars in accordance with whatever the event’s “Country Cajun” theme means to them, and those who follow through will be recognized.

The logistics of it all were a definite challenge, said event chair Mindy Goodwin, particularly because the ranch requires the group to provide everything from a caterer to water themselves. But she’s feeling optimistic after how quickly her team rallied together to overcome every bump in the road.

“The board members have been really awesome about trying to think outside the box and try to plan for everything,” said Goodwin. “The board has really come together on this, and we’re excited about how it will unfold. … It’s important to bring everyone together, because in recovery it is so important to maintain that sense of community.”

That outside-the-box thinking was particularly important when planning the live auction, a fundraising tactic that is much easier to conduct when everyone’s sitting inside at tables, rather than inside their own cars. Simpson said all the live auction items will be projected onto the big screen so guests can clearly see what they’re bidding on, and they’ll likely have several runners waiting for a signal from whatever cars want to place a bid.

In addition to several speakers who will tell their recovery stories, Simpson said a special aspect of the event is the announcement of the 2020 Recovery Champion Award recipient. The honor recognizes people every year who have played an important role in helping others along their recovery journey, and the winner is kept secret until the night of the event.

Simpson said Recover Wyoming is suffering just like all nonprofits right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but he’s happy that they were able to adapt their biggest fundraiser of the year, rather than cancel it entirely.

“Our grant support that we’ve relied on, we can’t count on that being fully funded with the state budget cuts being announced,” Simpson said. “We might see a reduction in grants, so … this is extremely important, and we think that this is a way to retain what’s special about this event and still bring in some good income.”

Although she recognizes it’s a key component of the event, as someone in long-term recovery herself, Goodwin said raising money isn’t the only focus of Country Cajun Fest.

“The most important thing is getting people out and about, maintaining that social distance and knowing that the recovery community is still alive and well,” she said. “Honestly, this event has been one of the highlights of my sobriety so far. We have a great recovery network in Cheyenne and across the states, and having that connection is helping.”

“We have so many distractions right now and so many things that are a worry for people, but I hope this event reminds folks we have a community of people really hurting, maybe hurting even more because of all the isolating we’re going through,” Simpson said. “They’re valuable parts of our community, and it’s our mission to serve them, so this will be a good way to remind folks that recovery is real and they need our support.”

Niki Kottmann is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s features editor. She can be reached at nkottmann@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3135. Follow her on Twitter at @niki_mariee.

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