Bluefield: A University Recovery Community
In August 2013, Becky and Jeff Georgi opened Bluefield, a co-educational residence and study support program in Durham, North Carolina. It serves as a bridge for students leaving treatment programs and returning to college in what’s known as “the Triangle” of Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill.
“We provide a safe, structured living situation that supports abstinence, recovery and academics,” says Becky, who serves as Bluefield’s program director. For this first year, the facility has served eight students, all males between the ages of 19 and 24. The residence has the capacity for 10 and is also open to females.
Husband and wife, the Georgis are highly credentialed as recovery specialists and well known among the area’s academic community. Both are clinicians and licensed professionals in both mental health and substance abuse treatments. Becky has spent 20 years working with adolescents and their families through substance abuse education, prevention, and treatment. She holds licenses as a Clinical Addiction Specialist, a Certified Clinical Supervisor and a Licensed Professional Counselor. Jeff has provided substance abuse treatment to families for more than 30 years. He holds licenses as a Clinical Addiction Specialist, Certified Clinical Supervisor, a Licensed Professional Counselor, and a Certified Group Psychotherapist by the American Association of Group Psychotherapy.
Bluefield’s lead recovery coordinator has 17 years of recovery and experience. The facility’s recovery coaches each have had at least five years in recovery and have a bachelor’s or master’s degree, while academic coaches hold either a master’s or a PhD.
Why They Opened Bluefield
Recovery services and programs for students who’ve completed treatment and who want to return to school are woefully underserved, the couple believes. Even with well-respected treatment centers, “kids get discharged with very weak follow-up plans, if any,” Jeff says.
Becky agrees. “What has been painful to watch is how hard it is for students to go to treatment and be highly motivated to go back to school and think that they can re-enter [easily],” she says. “Every institution that we’ve dealt with has different re-entry standards. For example, if they have to take one semester off, does the summer count as a semester? How many classes are you allowed to take when you return? How much flexibility is there around the need for therapy and day meetings?”
Before opening, the Bluefield cofounders established key contacts with Duke and the University of North Carolina (UNC). The staff serves as a liaison between Bluefield clients and academic officials, both at re-entry and during the course of the students’ studies. Although the name Bluefield reflects the school color of both Duke and UNC, Becky says, “As [our first] year has unfolded, we’ve been blessed to have interest from other [area schools]. Now we have a student from NC State, one from Campbell, and two others who are transitioning from East Coast colleges.”
How the Program Works: Recovery
Bluefield’s first goal is maintaining the student’s recovery; the second is to help the student succeed academically.
Recovery coaches, available 24/7, work in shifts at the Bluefield residence. They take students to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and help them find sponsors. “If you’re a 20- or 21-year-old college student, you don’t want to be sitting in an AA group with a bunch of 55- and 60–year-old men,” says Jeff. “Our recovery coaches are part of that community, and they literally go with our students to help them connect in meetings. They make sure that they get sponsors and work the steps.”
For students who need ongoing treatment beyond what they’ve already had prior to arrival, Bluefield helps coordinate and manage that outside of the facility.
The program promotes exercise, nutrition and adequate sleep, as well as mindful practices. “We teach the kids to cook and how to eat healthy,” says Jeff. Exercise “helps the brain reset,” he says. It isn’t a cure, but studies indicate “exercise and mindful practice change the brain. And they change the brain in exactly the same places that addiction activates it.” Smoking cessation is also available since tobacco use is not allowed.
“We have an energy at the residence that is about recovery and living life in ways that are fun and fulfilling and successful without using,” says Becky.
How the Program Works: Academics
“We couldn’t function if we didn’t have the relationship that we do with Duke University and UNC and Campbell and NC State,” says Becky. An academic plan for re-entering recovery students “just doesn’t happen coming out of a treatment center as part of their discharge plan.” But it’s a large focus of Bluefield.
She cites an example of a senior who was highly motivated to return to school and graduate. He had contacted his professor while still in treatment and thought all was in place for him to return and complete his degree. Since he was considering coming to Bluefield, Becky asked if she could check on his re-entry plan with the university. “I learned that none of the pieces were in place for the clearance he needed even to register,” she says. Both academic and disciplinary reasons first had to be addressed. “If the dean had not intervened and worked with me, the student would not have been able to register.” She worked out the details in a 48-hour window, and the student was able to re-enter and graduate.
Academic success is a big deal, says Jeff. “Saving talent is kind of our catch phrase. We no longer have the luxury of throwing away gifted students.”
Bluefield’s academic coaches help students with skills, such as mapping out time to get their work done. “These are the kinds of things that you often see students with attention issues having a hard time with,” says Jeff. If these aren’t addressed, effectiveness of even bright, hardworking students is compromised. “Their self esteem falls like a rock, the shame comes back, and they get pulled back into drug or alcohol use,” he says.
Both Jeff and Becky have seen that scenario happen repeatedly. An intelligent high school student with attention deficit disorder comes to college. Suddenly, he or she is around students who equal his or her intellect but who do not have the burden of ADHD. “When they suddenly start slipping academically, the alcohol and drug-using sub population is waiting to embrace them,” says Jeff. “If you’re feeling bad about yourself, they’re there.”
In universities, Jeff says, “Alcohol and drug abuse are almost seen as a rite of passage.” Exceptions are Augsburg, Texas Tech and other recovery campuses, he says, but the majority of universities “don’t understand the transition from heavy alcohol and drug use to addiction.”
That’s where Bluefield can help.
For information, call 919-973-4159 or visit Bluefield Recovery at www.bluefieldrecovery.com.