Local nonprofit A Way Out stages Carbondale comedy event

Anna Gauldin
Post Independent Intern

Roaring Fork Valley nonprofit A Way Out, formerly a scholarship program within Aspen’s Right Door rehabilitation program, is now operating as an independent organization.

Under the direction of a seven-member board of directors and Executive Director Elizabeth Means, A Way Out provides counseling and assessment services to members in the Roaring Fork Valley struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, in addition to providing scholarships for treatment and other solution-oriented programs.

“A Way Out helps people struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, from young teens to adults having a hard time,” said Means. “We offer counseling and help send them to 30-, 60- or 90-day facilities to help with their specific issues and learn a new way of life. We help make that possible with our scholarships.”

As part of the nonprofit’s reintroduction to the community, A Way Out is holding a free comedy event in Carbondale tonight, featuring internationally acclaimed comedian Mark Lundholm.

“Mark had a very difficult life in his younger years,” said Means. “He was an alcoholic and a San Quentin inmate. He described himself as a mental patient and a homeless wino. He turned his personal experience into a therapeutic career, and it is a candid but very uplifting show.”

Lundholm’s comedy act, which he has performed in all 50 states and 10 foreign countries, is based on his own experiences with addiction.

“Everything I do on stage is based in fact and has some kind of emotional, comical center that any audience can tap in to, whether it’s a 70-year-old who’s never had a drink or a 16-year-old who’s already been in jail,” said Lundholm. “It’s like a comedy buffet: Everybody gets what they came for, but nobody eats in the same way.”

According to Means, the event’s purpose is to spread awareness about A Way Out’s vision.

“The reason we’re doing this event is that A Way Out has always been word of mouth, but we want to work with the community on a much larger basis,” said Means. “We want to put the word out so we can help people with the highest need.”

Because Right Door ceased operations at the end of 2012 due to financial difficulties, A Way Out was forced to apply for its own nonprofit status. Now six months in, the organization is funding its operating costs and scholarships through grants, individual donations and foundation contributions. The nonprofit focuses on combating both addiction and its side effects, such as depression.

“There is a very high suicide rate in Pitkin and Garfield counties, and a lot of it is caused by the depression that is a side effect of drug and alcohol abuse,” said Means. “If we can help with the addiction, then maybe we can help with the suicide rate.”

Local counselors and facilities refer individuals struggling with addiction to A Way Out, after which the individuals fill out applications and meet with staff members. The scholarship committee then awards need-based scholarships to help cover the costs of treatment programs. All applicants must commit to a minimum of a one-year follow-up plan to improve the effectiveness of the treatment.

“We really want to help the Roaring Fork Valley, because there’s a huge need,” said Means.

Lundholm also sees the need for A Way Out and applauded the nonprofit for its efforts.

“They have access to accurate information about these situations, from suicide to addiction,” said Lundholm. “They have the answers. They are excellent at helping families, at telling people how not to become the next statistic.”

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