Flint, MI – For Layna Vankirk, turning 21 was a wake-up call.

“It started when I was pretty young. Like, I started partying and using and, you know, all that when I was like 15,” she said. “By the time I was 21, I was like, ‘I have a problem.'”

So, she spent the next few years of her life beginning her “sober journey.”

Now, at age 28, she is four and a half years sober and co-runs a sober group in Flint to support and encourage people who wish to embark on the same path.

Vankirk runs the group with David Piotrowski, who has been sober for three years and nine months. For Pitrowski, becoming sober was all about finding fun things to do outside of drinking.

“I just want to help people explore their passions and outlets because that’s one of the best ways to recover from anything,” he said.

Before Pitrowski’s sober journey, he said all he knew how to do was skate and drink. When he could no longer skate due to a sprained ACL, he said being sober became increasingly difficult.

At the time, though, he said he had a friend who helped him find other things to occupy himself—like going to museums, going hiking or creating art.

“She taught me how to save myself and how to have a better life, and I really feel I owe it to pay it forward to others,” he said. “And that’s why I agreed to do the group with Layna.”

Vankirk and Piotrowski met a few years ago while she was working at a dispensary. They had a lot of conversations about sobriety, and Vankirk said she’d been thinking about starting a support group for a while.

She said she wanted to create a sober group that wasn’t based on step-by-step processes or religious affiliations characteristic of some other recovery programming. So, she pitched the idea to Piotrowski to start their own group.

“I’m like, I know that we don’t know each other super well…[we’re] just acquaintances from, you know, from working and knowing each other, but he was totally down for it,” she said.

Now, Flint City Sober has been meeting at least once a month since June 2022. Attendees come and talk about their sober journeys, or they hang out and do a fun activity.

“We knew that there needed to be a group, and we knew we could do it. We just—we don’t want people to come to us thinking we have the answers. We just have ideas that worked for us,” Piotrowski said.

Flint City Sober meets the last Tuesday of each month from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Flint Public Library. In between those meetings, Piotrowski said the group also hosts other events like hikes or art nights. He said there are usually anywhere between six to 14 people who show up to the gatherings.

On Tuesday, March 28, 2023, the group met at Flint Crepe Company downtown and had a party with a live DJ and mocktails.

Flint City Sober hosted a night of live music and mocktails at Flint Crepe Company downtown Flint, Mich. on March 28, 2023. (Photo courtesy of David Piotrowski)
Russell Woods was the DJ for an event by Flint City Sober at Flint Crepe Company in downtown Flint, Mich. on March 28, 2023. (Photo courtesy of David Piotrowski)

Vankirk said that in the future, she would really like to open a sober bar in Flint.

She said it would be nice to have a place where people can get together and enjoy themselves in the evenings without alcohol.

“As long as I’ve been sober, that’s kind of, like, been a dream of mine,” she said, noting she just wanted to have somewhere to go where people can “congregate and hang out” without feeling the pressure to drink.

“I don’t love being around drunk people,” she added. “But I still like going out and I still like meeting new people and, you know, experiencing life.”

To keep up to date with Flint City Sober events, the founders said interested residents can follow the group’s Instagram account.

Sophia is Flint Beat's City Hall reporter. She joins the team after previously reporting for the Livingston Daily and the Lansing State Journal, along with some freelance work with The New York Times....

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