Minnesota Alliance on Problem Gambling community educator Sonja Mertz provides a glimpse into what it’s like fielding a range of conversations when she exhibits around the state.

When I work an exhibit table, I never know what to expect when people approach me. I receive a variety of comments. Some people will tell me, “Life is a gamble.” Others just want to make conversation. “I don’t have a problem with gambling,” they’ll tell me, or “I only take $100 to the casino and when it’s gone, I leave.” Some people might think I am taking an informal inventory on gambling habits. “I’m worried about my mom’s gambling.” Some people are looking for resources…something to encourage a conversation with a loved one. Still others are close, but not quite ready to get the help they need, saying, “I know I have a problem, but I’m having too much fun right now.” Some people need someone to be real with…someone who knows the language. And sometimes I purposely walk away from the table to give the hesitant person a chance to pick up a brochure without having to say anything to the smiling lady who might look too eager to speak with them.

My recent opportunities to host exhibit tables have included some diverse events — a celebration of fathers and families in North Minneapolis, a resource fair for senior citizens in St. Cloud, a conference on Adverse Childhood Experiences for mental health professionals and educators, a resource-sharing celebration for people in recovery from substance misuse, and the Fiesta Latina in St. Paul. The attendees at these events might look different from each other, but their needs are the same. They are all interested in strengthening their communities and keeping their families and loved ones healthy. The conversations that I have at these events assist my work at MNAPG by helping me to understand what types of resources are needed in various communities and by helping our organization to shape future messaging about the harms of gambling and what should be done to reduce that harm.

I also had the opportunity in August to travel to some casinos in central Minnesota and meet with some Human Resources staff members. MNAPG provided boxes of our new brochures and new hotline stickers. Our hope is to build relationships with each casino in Minnesota to work toward maintaining healthy customers and provide resources for their patrons who need help with their gambling behavior.

September, October and November are the busiest conference months for MNAPG. Susan and I will be presenting and/or exhibiting at least twelve different events, not including stand-alone presentations and our own MNAPG Conference in November.

As varied as all these interactions may be, we look forward to having those conversations.

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