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Shooting Star Casey Damlo

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Casey Damlo, 27, has dedicated her career as a chemical dependency social worker at Wadena County Social Services to helping area citizens overcome alcoholism and drug addiction.

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Damlo began working for social services three years ago after graduating from Bemidji State University with a bachelor's degree in applied psychology: human services.

She originally planned on becoming a child psychologist, she said, but changed her career plans after getting married and having a baby. An internship for a Park Rapids social service agency solidified her decision to become a social worker.

"It felt like it was so needed," Damlo said about her career choice. "It felt like more of a public service. Helping people that really need it, that most people don't want to help."

She said her biggest surprise when she came to work for social services was discovering what a big issue chemical dependency is in the small county of Wadena.

"It's a very large problem," she said. "I didn't expect the large case load that I have."

Methamphetamine gets the most coverage in the newspapers she said, but she encounters alcohol abuse more often than any other form of chemical dependency.

"Alcohol is the number one drug of choice," she said.

She has worked with clients as young as 11 years old and as old as 79, she said. Physical problems such as kidney damage, cirrhosis of the liver and memory impairment, as well has family and relationship issues are some of the most destructive consequences Damlo encounters with chemical dependency.

Everyone has a different rock bottom they have to hit before getting help for their problems, she said.

"Some people have to lose everything, their kids, their work, their home ... before they look for help," Damlo said.

There are times when working with chemical dependency is very frustrating, she said. But she finds satisfaction in helping people deal with their problems.

"It's the every once in a while when someone calls and says 'I have a year of sobriety' or 'I've been sober a few months,'" she said, recalling rewarding moments of her job. "That makes all the difference in the world."

After working with people's chemical dependency issues, Damlo goes home to her husband, Chad, an electrician, and two boys, Cody, 5, and Tanner, 1. It can be hard to balance her career and family life, she said. But the drive home to Frazee helps Damlo to transition from her stressful work life to her home life.

"When I'm at home it's about my family," she said.

Most social workers begin their careers in child protection, Damlo said -- a job she didn't think she could do after having young children.

"I'm glad that I'm working with [chemical dependency]," she said. "Where my heart is."

sarah@wadenapj.com

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