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Making the transition to college easier for students in recovery

January 22, 2014
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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Excelling in college has never been an easy task. Making new friends, being away from family and familiarity, juggling classes and trying to earn grades that will lead to a great job upon graduation are just a few of the challenges that any student may encounter. Now imagine these with the added pressure of maintaining one’s recent sobriety in a community filled with partying – which many times means drinking and using drugs.

“When young people get sober and go back to college, they are going to an environment is that not recovery-friendly,” says Mills Tate, outreach coordinator at Hope Homes Recovery Services.

Hope Homes opened a new recovery residence this month specifically for college students who are in active recovery from addictive, emotional or eating disorders. The new program, called the Loft, is located in Charlotte, N.C., and serves students attending the surrounding colleges—UNC Charlotte, Queens University, and Central Piedmont Community College.

In this recovery community, students are encouraged to have the same experiences as any college student would – just without the alcohol and drugs. Tate says the plan is to create an environment where fellowship and community are a main focus and questions such as, “How are your classes going?” “How are your meetings?” “Do you have a sponsor?” are regular topics of conversation.

The requirements for an individual to live at the Loft are that he or she:

  • Must be between the ages of 18 and 25
  • Must have at least six months of sobriety
  • Must agree to random drug and alcohol screening
  • Must be enrolled at a university or will be enrolling the upcoming semester

As far as relationships with the local colleges, Tate says the new program is located close to the UNC Charlotte campus because the organization has worked closely with its collegiate recovery community and also had a past relationship with a nearby apartment complex. (The Loft is on a bus line so there’s easy access to public transportation at the apartment complex for those students who may not be attending UNC Charlotte.)

She has also been in communication with a professor at Central Piedmont who works with students who are pursuing their degrees in substance abuse counseling. “So far, we have a really good working relationship with the colleges, but we are definitely separate from them,” she says.

According to the organization’s website, “peer counselors live on-site and lead community activities, provide strategic goal setting in weekly one-on-one sessions, and facility an overall healthy and active community.” The peer counselors help students with their online registration and study skills, but do not interfere with the students’ relationships with the university.

Although this program will serve the local universities, Tate acknowledges that this is an issue that needs to be addressed throughout the entire country. There is currently a large movement of collegiate recovery communities and she says that these “have opened up the idea that you can be a student and also in recovery at the same time.”

Tate says the goal is eventually to have a Loft community in every area where larger Hope Homes programs are located. Besides Charlotte, these cities are Greenville, S.C., Atlanta, and Birmingham, Ala. For her, the desire to open these communities has a deeper meaning. She got sober at age 20, returned to college and relapsed within four months.

“For me, it’s personal,” explains Tate. “I’ve been inspired by the idea that students can have a college experience while staying clean and sober. I want to be able to provide students with the opportunity that I did not have. If this one is successful, we’ll start looking for where we’d like the next one to go.”

She says she feels that she missed out on the community aspect of college that the Loft is striving to provide. Because her time was consumed with drinking, she didn’t get involved in any on-campus activities or intercollegiate sports.

“I wish to be able to help other students instead of wasting this opportunity to be involved in all types of activities — focusing on those things rather than just drinking and wasting away these years that you really have to figure out who you are and what you want to do with your life,” she says.

The Loft will be able to house 24 students, but Tate explains that there really isn’t a “capacity” to the program. “We won’t ever ‘hit capacity’ and turn people away, we would just ‘hit capacity’ and open up another community,” she says. 

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