Fairbanks teacher brings own tools to class on addiction

Sam Friedman | Fairbanks News-Miner

FAIRBANKS -- Monkeys dominate the classroom of Kelly Andaloro.

A jungle of stuffed monkeys, several in bright colors, looks down on her classroom from the top of a bookshelf. The biggest, a fat, larger-than-life creature named "Last Chance" sits in a chair near the white board.

Andaloro doesn't study primates. Her classes deal with addiction, and the monkeys are a good metaphor for drug addiction -- the monkey on your back.

At her business, Fresh Start on Industrial Avenue, Andaloro teaches everything from a court-required 12-hour class for driving under the influence convictions to more intensive counseling.

She has a broad approach to helping her clients. Part of the curriculum comes from a Alaska Department of Health and Human Services booklet that explains the effects of drugs on the body and how to identify drug abuse.

To keep the class engaging, Andaloro teaches the history of drugs and shows health-related documentaries like "Super Size Me" and "Food Inc."

Especially in the more intensive classes, broader lessons in subjects like hygiene and personal finance come up.

"One of the common misnomers is people need a refresher in how to live a healthy life," Andaloro said. "A lot of people out there have never had that. I ask them, and I tell them not to answer, 'How many of you know you should strip your bed and wash your sheets every two weeks if not every week?' And people just get this kind of glazed-over look."

Morals and values also are on the curriculum.

"It's amazing how many teenagers and young adults think it's OK to steal from the deli at the grocery store because you need to eat," she said.

Being nonjudgmental is important. Andaloro understands her students' struggles because 20 years ago she had problems with drugs. She was embezzling money from her employer to feed her habit and once moved to the Lower 48 to get away from cocaine in Fairbanks only to pick up methamphetamine.

Andaloro's mother held an intervention and gave her daughter a choice between coming home and working or going to school. The intervention led Andaloro to study counseling and social work at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and to later work at Family Centered Services of Alaska and the Ralph Purdue Center before opening Fresh Start in 2009.

With hesitation, Andaloro described her counseling work as rewarding. Some of the students she has had for court-ordered classes have returned voluntarily for more intensive counseling. A few former students have donated monkeys to her classroom. But seeing the results takes patience.

"Unfortunately in this field, you might not see those rewards for five or 10 years," she said.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner