Combatting Opioid Crisis with Outreach- Northwest Herald

By Katie Smith

June 23rd, 2019

Photo by Matthew Apgar mapgar@shawmedia.com

From the sidewalk in the Woodstock Square, Warp Corps’ storefront doesn’t let on to all that’s inside.

The “coffee” sign in the front window and skateboard decks just past the entrance are only a glimpse at the ways two McHenry County men have chosen to combat the area’s opioid crisis with action sports, art, music and private label gourmet coffee.

Woodstock resident Rob Mutert and McHenry man Mike Schoeler have created a space for artists, musicians, skateboarders and coffee aficionados alike to hang out and learn more about substance abuse and suicide prevention.

By partnering with organizations such as Live 4 Lali, a substance abuse and mental health awareness group, and anti-bullying nonprofit, Cam’s Dare to Be Different, Mutert and Schoeler want to send a message to all people that creativity and self expression are healthy alternatives to substance abuse and self harm.

“In all of our peer-to-peer engagements that Mike and I do, we tell them the same thing over and over: ‘We can get you high 100 different ways, and not one of them will have you end up in jail,’ ” Mutert said.

Warp Corps, now an LC3 charitable organization at 114 N. Benton St., Woodstock, began in 2003 as an indoor skate park. By the time the park closed in 2010, it was attracting about 50,000 visitors annually, Mutert said.

In addition to a $25,000 community development block grant that Warp Corps received through McHenry County, the organization operates on revenue from merchandise sales of mostly local apparel, jewelry, art and skate supplies. The organization also sells its own brand of coffee beans, Max Happy.

Mutert was inspired to pursue his new undertaking last year after losing a handful of local friends to suicide and heroin, he said. In February, Mutert partnered with Schoeler, the owner of W1sh Productions, to re-brand Warp as a laid-back space for residents to create and showcase their art, jam with their friends or attend support meetings.

“It’s a natural endorphin release that we find through creativity and action and achievements,” Schoeler said.

Warp Corps also gives out free fentanyl test strips upon request and offers naloxone training at no cost and with no questions asked. Naloxone, often referred to by its brand name, Narcan, reverses the effects of a heroin overdose.
“We can show them how to test their product so we can show them what they’re ingesting,” Mutert said. “We have no judgment here.”

The 3-inch-long fentanyl test strip has the potential to saves lives.

Within five minutes of placing a test strip in a solution of drug residue and a bottle cap-sized container of water, a single line on the strip will alert users to the presence of fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid. Combinations of heroin and fentanyl resulted in 17 deaths in 2018 in McHenry County, according to the McHenry County Coroner’s Office.

Warp Corps also has partnered with Live 4 Lali to host regular Narcan training sessions and provide guests with the potentially life-saving nasal spray that can reverse the affects of an opioid overdose. Training sessions are held at
6 p.m. the second Saturday of every month at the Woodstock shop.

“Every tavern owner, every restaurant owner, every coffee shop owner should have their staff Narcan-trained and have product at the ready every day they’re in business,” Mutert said. “It’s that bad.”

A full schedule of training sessions, as well as art and music support group and recovery meetings is available on the organization’s Facebook page at Facebook.com/warpcorps.

Warp Corps’ storefront is only Phase a of a bigger picture. Eventually, Mutert and Schoeler would like to re-open the skate park, as well as a music studio and a large-scale obstacle course in the style of the TV program “American Ninja Warrior.”

“We see it in music. We see it in action sports. The feeling a kid gets the first time he can kick flip a three stair – I’ve seen that a million times in my life, the endorphin buzz in their brain is better than any drug you could give somebody,” Mutert said.

Until they expand, Warp Corps reaches a larger audience through alternative means – by hosting musical live-streams online every Sunday or speaking to local students about substance abuse and mental health awareness.

Because they aren’t medical professionals, Mutert and Schoeler have created a community resources information center in the space’s art gallery to help connect people with places such as New Directions Addiction Recovery Services, the Pioneer Center and the McHenry County Mental Health Board.

“The second something is out of Mike or my or any of our Warp Corps volunteers’ wheelhouse, we have a moral obligation to ... get them to the right people,” Mutert said.

Warp Corps isn’t only a for place for support groups and substance abuse awareness, however.

Seventeen-year-old Woodstock High School students Sonja Bozic and Max Markowitz come by the center to play music and create art.

“I think just having this place, specifically for young people, is so important, because it’s not just for people who are struggling,” Bozic said. “You can come here and play music, or do art, or talk to people, and just hang out and it’s just the most chill, relaxed environment, and it’s just the most supportive, accepting people.”

A Letter from Rob

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Our story begins in 2003 when we re-established Warp skate park under new ownership. This idea was simple. Give kids a safe and positive place to go where they could be themselves in an environment that was made for them. No outside BS to distract them from doing what we all love - Skateboarding and making music. In our efforts to build a team and to show the industry what the Midwest had to offer, we did some amazing things in a short period of time. We won the National TOP SHOP team competition back to back years and our team was the youngest competing with no skater over 18. We have 3 skaters who have reached the professional level in skateboarding and several who are pushing the top tier in the amateur ranks with a great shot to be pros in the future. We created the “ShredFest” contest series and hosted more than 90 contests over the years. We built a “skate-able” stage in our park so we could host all ages music events in a controlled environment where young people could go and enjoy themselves. Throughout the years, we also hosted over 100 rock shows and concerts.

Using our experience with young people, paired with the sudden and harsh reality of some huge social issues we face, I was forced into action. With the suicide (39 in 2017) and opioid (77 in 2017) epidemic killing at a alarming rate, I knew what had to be done, and Warp Corps was born. We feel that prevention is the key to get out in front of the issues with love, compassion, and understanding. I believe that tapping into people’s organic passion in life we can chart a path to a happiness, free of these issues that KILL. Our ethos is simple: Live, Learn, Love, and Lead... If not us? Who? If not now? When?

Warp Corps’ Mission is to open and operate a facility here in McHenry county for the prevention of suicide, opioid abuse, and substance abuse for the next generation of youth facing these realities. Our programs are inclusive to everyone and meant to help this generation. We all know right from wrong, but the lines get blurred under the various influences we all face in America today. From bullying, to pressure on social networks, and peer pressure we sometimes need help to battle everyday just to get through. That’s what we are all about. Open, loving and supportive for everyone in our community. We have the “BIG 3” Art/Media, Music and Adventure Sport as our starting point to engage and help prevent people from even going there. We have all done crazy things in life, and I for one am lucky to be alive right now to enjoy this opportunity to do my part for the community. We need your support on every level to make this program work and impact the lives of the people we love and care about. Our kids! Our Future!

Thank you.

Love and respect,

Rob Mutert