Counselor Rufus Brown is a listener to the “hurting soul,” one who can help those recovering from drug addiction because he’s lived through it too.

There are many voices among the 50 to 60 students at P.E.A.S.E. Academy, the recovery high school where he is a licensed alcohol and drug counselor, and Brown offers an open door to all of them. Weekly sober support groups give a chance to talk about “big ticket” items or current issues in student lives. Like a paramedic, the school practices a “triage system” to continually assess recovery needs and help individuals to build a positive, affirming lifestyle.

The support is extensive. Brown collaborates with treatment center therapists to find the best way to reach each student. OMNI Mental Health counselors, covered by student health insurance, come to the school and provide individual counsel. It’s convenient for the student and improves class attendance.

There are monthly Parents Of P.E.A.S.E. meetings led by Brown, where concerns and experiences are shared. “Mostly, they are scared,” he said. “Scared that their son or daughter will relapse.”

Weekends and summer vacations require supports that need to become daily habits. Brown’s advice is clear and direct. “Find a sponsor. Call someone with good recovery. Go to meetings. Make friends with those who are sober. Attend safe events. Get a job. Stay busy. Find people who are involved with safe hobbies. Have sleepovers and stay up all night sharing stories.”

It’s usually not easy. Brown sees the grief as students lose “their old friends, the weed and vodka … the people and places where they were using.” He listens for the hurts, which surface as unresolved issues, the bitterness, resentment, loneliness and shame. And, he shares his own stories and life experiences.

Brown lives in St. Paul with his daughter, Cadance, who is nine, and has been his date to the PEASE Prom. A lifelong Minnesotan, he drives an “old beater of a car” and is a serious Vikings fan.