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Providing a Safe Space for Recovery

State grant allows University to expand Red Hawk Recovery Program

Posted in: Health, University

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With the start of the new academic year, a $771,000 grant from the state will provide students recovering from Substance Use Disorder with expanded counseling services and financial support to defray the costs of tuition and on-campus housing. It comes at a critical time as the coronavirus  pandemic has made college life more challenging.

“When I came across the Recovery Room at Montclair State, I honestly almost cried with relief,” says a recent transfer student, who like other students interviewed for this story requested anonymity.

“As a new student, and as someone who wouldn’t even be a student in the first place if not for my recovery, finding a recovery support system and network to connect with before my classes began let me know that everything was going to be OK, and that I wasn’t going to have to face this alone.”

The grant was awarded by the New Jersey Department of Human Services and will increase the recovery resources Montclair State already provides.

“This is an exciting time for the University as we look to further develop support services for students in recovery. This grant will enable us to strengthen the groundwork we’ve begun to build for recovery housing and increase our recovery services,” says Vice President for Student Development and Campus Life Karen L. Pennington.

“People in recovery are marginalized, stigmatized and underserved. Our ultimate goal is to give young people in recovery a place to succeed and thrive,” adds Staff Psychologist and Coordinator of Alcohol and Drug Programs Kristine De Jesus.

Montclair State is one of five New Jersey public universities receiving grants for collegiate recovery programming. “As an active change agent in student issues, we recognize the importance of developing programs that ensure students in recovery can engage in the full college experience, while receiving the support they need to maintain their recovery,” Pennington says.

With the grant funding, students in the Red Hawk Recovery Program will be able to apply for financial assistance to help cover the costs of tuition, on-campus housing and books. The grant will also provide for a doctoral student to assist with program development.

Peer-to-peer support and counseling have pivoted virtually due to the pandemic’s social distancing requirements and, possibly due to the stresses of COVID-19, has seen an uptick in the number of students participating.

Among the newcomers, Jean, a sophomore who grew up in an alcoholic home, joined the online support as the challenges presented by the pandemic turned personal. “My childhood friend, in my home country, died and I could not go home for the funeral. Being an immigrant and not having family here,” Jean found “fellowship and support” in the Recovery Room sessions.

“Knowing that all of us are working on healing and bettering ourselves, enables me to be more vulnerable and to ask for help when I need it,” Jean says.

Beginning next fall, Montclair State will provide recovery housing embedded within the University’s Wellness Living-Learning Community residential program.

“By living on campus the students will be able to partake in a supportive environment that can help guide their recovery journeys,” says Associate Director for Residential Support Services Kevin Schafer.

The work is important. Current research suggests that more than 90 percent of students participating in college recovery programs maintain their recovery while in college.

“We are so pleased the state is showing support for our recovery initiatives,” says Schafer. “We hope we can shine a brighter light on the campus recovery community and the resources that are available to those in need.”

Montclair State’s program takes a holistic wellness approach, focusing on eight interrelated wellness areas – physical, emotional, spiritual, social, mental, occupational, intellectual and financial – to help students develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime.

”Substance Use Disorder is a disease – and we need to treat it like any other disease,” says Coordinator of Health Promotion Marie Cascarano. “Our goal is to reduce stigma, create an inclusive campus community, a visible network of support and give voice to this marginalized group.”

September is National Recovery Month, an observance sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to increase awareness and understanding of mental and substance use disorders and celebrate the people who recover.

College students often feel they are the only ones dealing with these issues and that no one can understand their experiences.

“Recovery is a highly personal and unique experience for every individual,” says a Montclair State graduate student. “For me, changing my relationship with alcohol has addressed my problematic usage, helped me process trauma and thrive in my professional and personal goals.”

Added the student who recently transferred: “Recovery has given me the gift of being able to return to school and finally pursue the path I’ve always wanted, and I know that Montclair State’s recovery services will be right there with me, every step of the way.”

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