Coming to St. Cloud State University was a little nerve racking, says Guest Blogger Thaddeus Rybka in part two of his story.
I’d be leaving the Twin Cities where I had made a home the last two years, and was nervous about what others were telling me about SCSU’s “party school” reputation. Would I be able to make this program a success in what I perceived to be a hostile environment? Little did I know of all the great work that was being done at SCSU to address the high-risk drinking culture that existed in the past, the measurable changes that occurred, and the incredible administrative support for the new collegiate recovery program. Needless to say, my fears of SCSU were lifted immediately once I arrived on campus and was welcomed into the Husky community.
I quickly connected with the campus. It has a true college feel to it; large but accessible with the mighty Mississippi right next door. I discovered an appreciation for the outdoors especially with the abundance of water nearby. I realized that being by water, especially with a fishing rod in my hand, is where I find my serenity.
Having that accessibility to recharge and meditate really strengthened my recovery and in turn allowed me to do my best work.
We began our collegiate recovery community (CRC) the fall of 2012 with one student.
That first year was unique because here we were, two guys spreading the message that recovery works and fun can be accomplished without the use of substances; challenging the national college drinking subculture glorified by the media. I vividly remember promoting our community in the Atwood Memorial Center (main hub of campus) and initially getting odd looks, but after a while, students began to approach us asking about our community.
The stigma associated with recovery prohibits a lot of us from embracing our identity and seeking out others for support. Our exposure on campus allowed students to come forward and be comfortable sharing their story. “You really have a community for students in recovery?! I thought I was the only one!”
That’s where S.T.A.R.S. was born.
Students Taking Action in Recovery and Service (S.T.A.R.S.) is a student organization I helped create not only for students in our residential-based CRC, but for anyone who wanted to find purpose in their recovery. Not only did I see students in recovery from chemical dependency want to get involved, but also those with mental health challenges, eating disorders, PTSD, sex addiction, as well as supportive allies.
They wanted to be part of a healthy group of students who were working on bettering themselves and overcoming their previous challenges. S.T.A.R.S. offers opportunities to get involved with service work, advocacy initiatives, and fun social events.
Every week we bring an AA meeting to an adolescent treatment center in town and share our experience, strength, and hope with them. I cannot stress enough the importance of getting out in the community and giving back. Service work is crucial! By giving back to those new to recovery we are actually enhancing our own recovery.
Over the past 5 years, we’ve established a campus AA meeting, NA meeting, SMART Recovery meeting, and the first Crystal Meth Anonymous meeting in St. Cloud (started by one of our former CRC students). Also, the St. Cloud Alano Club and its 30 meetings-a-week is right across the river. We are very blessed to have accessible support group options for our students.
After our first year, our CRC started to blossom.
Slowly, our community has started to grow. The next year, we welcomed 8 more students and the next year we welcomed more and so on. Our CRC is located on campus in Coborn Plaza Apartments, where students enjoy fully furnished 4-person apartments with a private bedroom, walk-in closet, and private bathroom.
What’s really neat is that students don’t have to pay extra for the additional support services we provide; in fact, CRC students receive a scholarship of $1,000 each semester if they continue to meet program requirements which include being a full-time student, attending weekly individual and group support meetings, and remaining abstinent from alcohol and other drugs.
We acknowledge our students are busy balancing their recovery with school and work life, so a scholarship is meant to help them out financially.
Our CRC is unique. We offer multiple pathways to a degree by admitting students from either St. Cloud State University or St. Cloud Technical and Community College (SCTCC). So, whether you want to pursue one of the 200+ majors SCSU offers, complete your generals at SCTCC then transfer to SCSU, or pursue a certificate or trade at SCTCC, we have you covered and you can live in our community.
To qualify, prospective students must be accepted into SCSU or SCTCC. The students must then complete our application with references and treatment records, if applicable. After the application is processed, each student is interviewed to assess his or her commitment to sobriety and readiness for academic work in a Recovery Community setting.
When students move in, they are immediately connected to a peer and campus support system designed to help them succeed in their recovery and in their academics. By having a balanced routine and staying busy, our students are able to create positive new habits resulting in better academic performance and strong recovery. In fact, our students achieve a higher GPA than the overall student body, and are more involved with campus life.
If you’re not having fun in recovery, then what’s the point?
Part of that balanced routine is to take a break and have fun! As Coordinator, I facilitate social events and advocacy initiatives for our students to participate in.
For example, every month we co-host a recovery celebration called Recovery Rocks! with students from the Rehabilitation and Addiction Counseling (RAC) program.
The event features live music, milestone recognition, food and sober fun. We designed the event so we can bring the community together to support those in or seeking recovery while encouraging help seeking and reducing stigma.
We go fishing, snow tubing, bowling, and to the movies. Our students also have potluck dinners and simply enjoy hanging out with each other. They ask each other for help, celebrate accomplishments, and hold each other accountable. My goal is for them to have the same college experience as anyone else, just without the use of substances. Maybe sometimes we have too much fun. I’ll give you an example. We started on the 4th floor of Coborn Plaza Apartments and were moved down to the 3rd floor because students below us were complaining we were too loud. The next year, we were moved down to the second floor because below us were offices.
Today, we are a leader in the collegiate recovery movement.
When we started our collegiate recovery community in 2012 there were roughly 40 CRCs in the country. Today, that number exceeds 150. We are honored to have had various institutions visit us to gain insight on how we run our community. Whether it’s a residential-based program or a drop-in center, I strongly believe a CRC should be on every college campus.
According to SAMHSA’S 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 15.3% of 18-25 years olds meet the criteria for a substance use disorder.
That is an alarming number and shows the need for resources available on college campuses for this at-risk population. Everyone should be given the opportunity to pursue a higher education!
My time at St. Cloud State as a graduate assistant and now as its Coordinator has been special, to say the least. To have helped lay the foundation for a program that has helped so many students in recovery pursue a college degree has been truly priceless.
Heck, I never thought I’d see the age of 28, but here I am with a master’s degree, my parent’s trust back, genuine friends, and a job that allows me to help others and spread the message that recovery works. It doesn’t get much better than that!
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