Discover Northbound Academy
This program helps students achieve academic goals and long-term sobriety.
Among the keys to any successful recovery are motivation, support, and hope. Students find all three at Northbound Academy, based in Newport Beach, CA.
One of the numerous programs offered at Northbound Treatment Services, the Academy was developed for young people who want to advance their high school, college, or vocational education while they receive substance abuse treatment and enter early recovery. Partnering with the University of California, Irvine (UCI), as well as three community colleges, the Academy offers a package of services to help students integrate academics with long-term sobriety.
Early on, Academy founder and COO Paul Alexander recognized the need for such a program. As a student at UCI, Alexander co-authored “An Evaluation of Addiction Treatment Coupled with Higher Education,” an honors thesis he presented at the 2004 University of California Research Symposium. That study convinced him that an education-treatment model could help prevent relapse. After implementing and running numerous education-based treatment programs, Alexander designed the Sober Academy College Program at Northbound, which grew into the highly successful Northbound Academy.
The goals of the Academy—long-term recovery and academic success—rest on four pillars: treatment, education and life skills, community service, and sober fun.
Aimed at helping clients achieve one year of continuous sobriety, treatment at Northbound is based on the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). A full continuum of care allows clients to remain in the same therapeutic setting while they transition from detox to support services. Between these levels are Men’s CORE and Women’s CORE extended care programs, Northbound Academy, and Intensive Outpatient Services. Northbound also offers LINKS, a Christian-based treatment program.
Each level of treatment includes group meetings designed to engage clients with the foundations of the 12 Steps, complemented by meetings with such outside community groups as AA, Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous (ABA). Once their recovery is firmly established, clients transition to support services that provide continued accountability.
Education and Life Skills
Whether their goal is to pass the GED, get accepted into a graduate program, or master a trade and become anything from a chef to an EMT, students at Northbound Academy have access to a range of services that will help them succeed.
Staff tutors work with students during daily study groups. A dedicated computer lab and a study room are designed to help develop good study skills and foster the necessary discipline to achieve academic goals. “Every student won’t receive an ‘A’ in every class,” said Program Manager Matthew Kinoshita. “But they will begin building the kind of solid study skills they need to meet their goals, and the positive peer interaction will help them build confidence that will enhance both their education and their long-term recovery.”
The Academy also offers life skills training—everything from resume building to money management. “Also, for those whose treatment, education, and recovery have inspired them to help others on this path, we offer the opportunity to enroll in the California Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor (CAADAC) certification program, which is one of the best in California,” said Kinoshita. “Many of our most effective staff members are working at Northbound with their CAADAC certification in hand.”
“Service is key to the 12 Steps, and here at the Academy, we have seen firsthand that giving back satisfies the soul like nothing else,” Kinoshita explained. Through a strategic partnership with the Los Angeles Mission, Academy students regularly reach out to the city’s homeless and indigent.
Many also devote their time to Someone Cares Soup Kitchen, where they help prepare food for the needy in Orange County, CA. Kinoshita continued, “Experiences like these offer our students a sense of perspective and gratitude, sometimes even providing an awakening from addiction’s selfish control.”
To support the transition from treatment into early recovery, the Academy organizes monthly activities where the only objective is clean, sober fun geared specifically toward young adults. These include sporting events, comedy shows, amusement parks, local attractions, and outdoor activities ranging from jet-pack riding to stand-up paddle surfing. As they experience the simple enjoyment of being young, healthy, and sober, students also build camaraderie and establish friendships.
Together, all four components of Northbound Academy provide an opportunity for discovery and healing in a safe and supportive environment. “We believe that when young people integrate their substance abuse treatment with a passion for learning, they gain a sense of hope for the future,” Kinoshita said. “And hopeful futures are what we’re all about.”
Taking It Personally
A few years ago, I had an unforgettable conversation with a young woman who had overcome the ravages of substance abuse and launched herself into a successful career. She described the fear her parents lived with when she would not return home. She recalled stealing from them and living on the streets of San Francisco. She spent a lot of time in hospitals, therapeutic boarding school, and therapists’ offices. She was lost, without hope, and unconcerned about her future.
But then something amazing happened. The young woman graduated from high school and began taking courses at the local community college, where she experienced the first of many successes. “I always thought I was smart,” she explained, “but I didn’t know I could be successful.” When I asked her what had made the difference, she told me that academic success made her recognize her own talent. “I finally realized that what I was doing in school was more valuable to me than the drugs and whatever else I was doing with my life before,” she said.
I have never forgotten that conversation. That young woman was my sister. I didn’t remember the chaos my younger sibling had brought to our family years ago—or perhaps I just didn’t want to see it at the time. But when she shared her experience, I kept thinking how wonderful it would have been if she could have had something like Northbound Academy back then.
At Northbound, I’ve committed my professional life to being a catalyst for meaningful change in others. I am honored on a daily basis to work with our students. I feel that I learn as much from them as they are learning from their treatment journey. And I thank my sister for sharing her brave journey with me. It will inspire me always.
Program Manager, Northbound Academy
Photography courtesy of Northbound Academy