The College of New Jersey launched a collegiate recovery program from scratch by creating a solid community — one student at a time.
When Christopher Freeman was hired as the new Community Recovery Supervisor at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) in June 2015 and was charged with starting a collegiate recovery program, he faced a unique challenge. Most students he needed to connect with were on summer vacation. Plus, a college was a new environment for Freeman, whose background was in treatment settings.
“How do I begin?” he wondered.
With much administrative support behind him, Freeman decided to just start coloring outside of the lines and see what happened.
“The benefit of starting on the ground floor is that we could create the best program for our unique student base,” he says. “I began by researching what other schools were doing to collect ideas, but I kept in mind that every school is different. We needed to build a community so that students in recovery could connect with each other, but we would not know what such a community would look like at our school until it was created.”
The initiative to create a collegiate recovery program at TCNJ began in 2014, when the college received a grant from the state of New Jersey, which had made funds available for public institutions to support students in recovery and to stem substance abuse on campus.
The college had three grant-driven components to implement: create recovery housing, provide counseling and support services, and offer a late-night sober activities program as part of a broader effort to reduce substance abuse on campus.
“The biggest challenge was getting the word out,” says Freeman, whose position was created from the grant. “I had to start ramping up something for when students arrived in September, but since it was summer, I sometimes felt like I was speaking to a ghost town.”
He sent out emails alerting the college community to the new initiatives, used the student health questionnaire to inquire if students were in recovery and spoke at first-year student events about the college’s recovery efforts. “We know from studies that 1 percent of all students are in recovery,” he says. “This might not sound very big but when you have a campus of 7,000 like we do, that could mean 70 students in active recovery — not including those who might be interested in a sober life or have fallen out of recovery.
“We needed to cast our net really wide and build momentum,” he continues. “Unfortunately, there’s no one efficient way to get the word out to everybody, so we had to use a lot of avenues.”