We learn from our 12 steps programs that it is important to give back. We learn that being of service will help us stay clean and sober. One of the most essential activities that we can include in our alumni programming can reflect this spirit of giving back: volunteerism. Volunteer opportunities abound within our own organizations and in our communities. I believe that alumni programs can embrace this.
At CeDAR, we have an active volunteer program that provides opportunities for alumni to come back and be of service to patients. After 9 months of sobriety, alumni can apply to be part of our volunteer community. They can spend time with patients: sharing their stories, and modeling “coping skills” behaviors that they have learned and practiced. Alumni can also volunteer to be part of our “CAPS” program (CeDAR Alumni Peer Support) and be a contact for a patient who is returning to his/her home community. In this supportive relationship, they might meet for coffee or go to a meeting. More importantly, the alumnus might serve as a model for living a life of recovery and help the patient learn how to spend his/her free time.
My favorite volunteer activity at CeDAR is a project started by one of alumni. On Christmas Day, alumni return to CeDAR and have a surprise party for patients. Prior to the holiday, alumni buy gifts and solicit donations from families and friends to buy hats, gloves, slippers, socks, cozy pillows and throws, stationary and games. At the party, each patient receives a pile of gifts and opens them for others to see. Snacks, beverages and candy adds to the party spirit. I’ve been watching patients and alumni at these parties for several years, and I’m not sure which group is happier or more grateful.
How does your alumni organization emulate the spirit of giving back?