That Community Spirit Shines Through
The University of Alabama at Birmingham is rolling out the welcome mat to students in recovery, to the greater recovery community and to allies.
When the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) launched its collegiate recovery community (CRC) in the fall of 2015 with a screening of the documentary The Anonymous People, about 50 students, staff and members of the public showed up. They knew they had tapped into a population that should be acknowledged and addressed.
For a year prior to the kickoff event, Program Manager Luciana Silva had been researching collegiate recovery communities at other schools and bringing together leaders from across the university to serve as an advisory board in preparation of creating a program on campus.
Before the CRC, students attended meetings in the community but longed for something unique to them. “The hospital offered the Addiction Recovery Program, which has a young adult track,” Silva says. “They saw this need. They watched people complete treatment, enroll or re-enroll at UAB, but return for meetings there because we did not offer this service. They were generous partners in getting our CRC started.”
There is a special bond that forms between like-minded individuals seeking a common goal. Nowhere is that stronger than with people in recovery whose goal is to stay clean, sober and healthy.
“Remaining in recovery is key to these students’ academic success, career success and life success after school,” Silva says. “As with any big change in life, people need support. They need to be around other individuals who understand that unique experience, those who have lived with it and know what it means to be healthy. Students want to see themselves reflected in the people around them and be involved in communities where they feel they share meaningful experiences. We aim to make our program for students, by students in recovery.”
Currently, the CRC has about 15 members — half undergraduates and half graduate students, including professional students in the medical and nursing schools — with an average GPA of 3.48. There are about 20 more regular nonmember participants who attend meetings and events and are generally around to support the CRC whenever needed. Silva says she and her staff are always seeking opportunities that allow students to tie their academic excellence with their daily work of maintaining recovery. Students can take advantage of 24-hour access to the Wellness House’s dedicated space and attend professional development workshops. In addition to three weekly recovery meetings, the CRC is planning to provide even more academic support programming this year.
Making Bold, Early Moves
As any CRC director can confirm, community building is the biggest challenge in a fledgling program. Silva and her team tackled this head-on by reaching out to the community at large as well as to their targeted demographic of students. They want people to see that this new initiative is strong and that UAB is a place that provides a warm, welcoming home for people living a sober lifestyle.