Celebrating Blue Love
Recovery Campus: How did you found Celebrate Recovery with limited resources?
Holmes: This was a challenge. Since we are not part of the North Carolina university system, we do not receive grant money from the state or from
the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. That said, we did have a significant amount of support from the faculty and school leadership. Making it a part of the Wellness Center was key. The staff is lean – there’s me, some part-time employees who help with grant writing and publicity, and student members. We have learned we can be efficient and effective.
Recovery Campus: How does Celebrate Recovery fit into the services provided by the Wellness Center?
Holmes: The recovery program is integrated into all our services, which helps mainstream being in recovery and reduces stigma. At the center, we have a “Single Stop” program in which we screen students for eligibility for national, state and local helping resources such as Medicaid, health insurance through the Affordable Healthcare Act, food stamps and the Women, Infants and Children food and nutrition service and assist them through the application process. Our staff advocacy for our students’ access to healthcare, food and housing is essential to providing them with financial supports that help them remain in school. Single Stop is a two-time recipient of the White House Social Justice Innovation Fund award. We were the first community college in the state to partner with Single Stop through a grant from the Belk Endowment.
Recovery has become part of the package. When the Wellness Center staff goes to classes to present on our services, they include a discussion on collegiate recovery.
Recovery Campus: Describe how you spread the word to students about Celebrate Recovery and include them in the decision-making process.
Holmes: We advertised Celebrate Recovery as a closed group for students in recovery to meet weekly. Students put up flyers and faculty members shared information with their students.
In the first year, we had eight dedicated students. The meetings were student-run. They made bylaws and had input into whether the meetings were open or closed. Their goal is to support one another in the recovery effort with no judgment. The guidelines are: you have to be sober at least that day; you can never show up drunk or high; and you had to see me for an individual weekly session each week.
We also integrated Celebrate Recovery into our Student Government Association’s “Welcome Back to Campus” activity. We wanted students to know that there’s no stigma in being in recovery; it’s mainstream and something that we have integrated into all our wellness services.
Recovery Campus: How does your recovery program’s structure lead to success?
Holmes: Students in the CRP participate in and receive weekly individual therapy with me in the Student Wellness Center. The combination of the clinical aspect and social support are an integral part of student success. Our CRP defines recovery as a lifelong healing process toward wellness, and we recognize the value of both abstinence and harm reduction models. We focus on inclusion and peer accountability. Although several identify in
the LGBT population and a couple have criminal records, no members report experiencing any stigma in participation with the CRP or barriers to academic or recovery success.
Recovery Campus: You are very proud of Celebrate Recovery’s Class of 2016.
Holmes: Indeed! Last spring, seven of the eight members were eligible for graduation — that gives Celebrate Recovery a 100 percent graduation rate. Four of these students graduated with honors and two with highest honors. Two earned multiple degrees and are pursuing further education in social work or psychology.
Recovery Campus: Why do individuals in recovery make excellent students?
Holmes: They understand how precious time is and are mindful of what feels like wasted time. Working in a recovery program puts them in a heightened state of mindfulness and they want to practice these principles in all of their affairs — including academics. As a result, these students are high-achieving and dedicated even when things get hard. When they get stressed, they reach out to one another rather than to substances as they had in the past.
Recovery Campus: How did your internships inform your work now?
Holmes: My internship with Child Protective Services gave me insight into how to empower our students who are single moms. My work at Duke helps me with the dually diagnosed — the students who suffer from depression and anxiety and might be self-medicating or those who have experienced trauma or anxiety and depression as a result of drug use.
Recovery Campus: Talk about other ways you educate students on substance abuse.
Holmes: In my instructional role on campus as a Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences, I teach the Substance Abuse Overview course for our Human Service Technology program. In that course, students are required to attend a 12-step or mutual-aid support meeting and reflect on their preconceptions, actual experience and thoughts on the role of social supports in human service work. Most students share a family history of addiction and trauma during this course, so I see how very many of our Human Service students especially enter the helping field as a result of the collateral effects of addiction and a desire to help others.
Recovery Campus: Discuss how Celebrate Recovery fits in with the broader picture of recovery in the community.
Holmes: The meeting and therapy on campus does not replace students’ group meetings within the community. There is a strong Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous presence in our area. This speaks to the enormity of community trauma and prevalence of substance use as a form of self-medication more than a casual recreational experience. I think this is evidenced by the fact that Rocky Mount is the fourth most violent small city in America, with some of the highest young minority male incarceration rates in the country. Its geographic location halfway between Miami and New York City also increases the presence of gangs, drugs, sex workers and human trafficking. Although certainly only a small number of our students are engaging in these activities, we are all affected by it. As a result, there is now a renewed effort at economic and community revitalization from local and state leaders and an increased awareness of the role the college serves in providing a skilled workforce and a more educated community.