Jenny (Bohnsack) Olson ’01
After graduating from Concordia, Jenny (Bohnsack) Olson ’01 began an 18-year stint at Microsoft with roles spanning communications, marketing, and organizational and leadership development – to name a few.
Roughly one year ago, Olson took a civic leave of absence from Microsoft to pursue an opportunity with the Office of Recovery Reinvented for the state of North Dakota. Created in January 2018 by executive order of the governor’s office, the Office of Recovery Reinvented promotes strategic and innovative efforts to eliminate the shame and stigma associated with the disease of addiction in North Dakota.
Olson joined the Office of Recovery Reinvented as its only formal employee and partners closely with Gov. Doug Burgum, the advisory council chaired by first lady Kathryn Burgum, and the state’s behavioral health team.
When Olson began talks with the first lady, she recognized the opportunity presenting itself to work for the state and lead an inspiring platform of change. After applying and getting approval for a civic leave of absence at Microsoft, Olson began her work as managing director of the Office of Recovery Reinvented.
“Every day is different – this whole past year we were creating the entire Office of Recovery Reinvented from scratch and kicking off initiatives as we identified the needs in our communities,” Olson said.
Facing a new challenge daily, Olson centers each day on one idea: “How can we make the biggest impact in North Dakota and surrounding areas around addiction?” Led by the passionate voice of the first lady, Recovery Reinvented has developed a variety of initiatives across the state to increase its impact.
Last year, Recovery Reinvented created the first Innovate Recovery Competition, which challenged organizations and individuals to present their best idea to help improve and grow services that support addiction recovery in North Dakota. The winner was awarded a $50,000 grant to fund their idea.
More recently, the Youth Ending Stigma (YES) Challenge was launched. The YES Challenge focuses on encouraging middle and high school students to develop ways to reduce the stigma of addiction in their own schools and communities.
“It has been amazing and inspiring,” Olson said. “These students are so insightful and passionate, clearly already leaders in their communities.”
Funded by the Dakota Medical Foundation, the YES Challenge awarded 17 $1,000 grants to allow students to implement their proposals. Students are currently working on executing their projects in communities across the state.
The third annual statewide Recovery Reinvented event, which focuses on eliminating the stigma of addiction, creating awareness, and inspiring grassroots efforts to create more supportive cultures of recovery in each community, will be Nov. 12 at the Bismarck Event Center. Featuring both local and national addiction and recovery experts, the public is invited and encouraged to attend this free event.
“We bring in all kinds of inspiring and educational speakers and experiences that center around addiction and recovery with the simple purpose of eliminating the shame and stigma around addiction and helping people in our communities either find recovery, maintain recovery, or learn how we can create a more supportive culture of recovery for everyone,” Olson said. “Everyone is impacted by addiction in some way.
As Olson and Recovery Reinvented create and implement initiatives, Olson can’t help but be continually inspired by the community surrounding the cause. Through engagement with the community and individuals in the fight against the stigma of addiction, Olson has found inspiration.
“The courage that those individuals demonstrate and the journeys they have been through never cease to amaze me,” she said. “Every story is different and it continually reminds me of the power of the human spirit and the good in people.”
Preparing for Opportunities
The opportunity to be amazed each day solidified Olson’s decision to resign from Microsoft at the end of her yearlong civic leave and stay on full time with the Office of Recovery Reinvented.
“I love this work,” she said. “To be inspired as many times during the week that I am, I think that is unusual and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Olson credits Concordia for preparing her for her work with the Office of Recovery Reinvented. As a student, she was actively engaged in the campus community.
“I am infinitely grateful for the experience,” Olson said about her time at Concordia. “That’s the beauty of the liberal arts. I never imagined working in the tech industry and it was even more unlikely I would end up working in the field of addiction and state government. You have no idea where the path will lead you and this is how you can be prepared to take risks, seize opportunities as they arise, and navigate the adventure.”
As she traveled around the world for Microsoft over the years, Olson recognized the home she has created right here in Fargo-Moorhead – a community she is positively impacting through her work with Recovery Reinvented and the state of North Dakota. Olson lives in Fargo with her husband and three daughters, ages 9, 7, and 2.