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Field of Dreams

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Helping Young People Experience Recovery (HYPER) proves that if you build it, “they” will come.

Written by Kelsey Allen

Tyler Collins and Nicholas Sakowski sit in an empty room in the Student Recreation and Wellness Center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). As president and vice president of UNLV’s Helping Young People Experience Recovery (HYPER) chapter, the duo is committed to showing up every Thursday from 1 to 2 p.m. Sometimes they discuss club business. Sometimes they support each other through the challenges of being sober in college. Sometimes they stare at their smart phones in silence. But no matter what, they sit there, waiting.

Going to college while in recovery is rewarding, but it can also put a student’s sobriety at risk. The demands of a degree program and extracurricular activities can be stressful, and substance use is a problem on many college campuses — let alone one in Sin City. According to a National Institute on Drug Abuse survey, daily marijuana use among college students has more than tripled in the past two decades, and more than 35 percent of college students report binge drinking in the past two weeks. The problem is especially prevalent in Nevada, a state that has higher rates of overall illicit drug use, marijuana use, non-medical use of pain relievers and past-year alcohol dependence or abuse among 12- to 17-year-olds, according to a report from the UNLV Center for Democratic Culture.

Collins and Sakowski know that some of their 28,600 peers at UNLV struggle with drug and alcohol use. So week after week, they show up — because what if someone who needs help walks in?

If you build it, he will come.

In October 2015, UNLV's HYPER group received its first outside funding support via a check for $38,000 from the nonprofit Transforming Youth Recovery, whose mission is to establish youth recovery programs across the country. Photo courtesy Nicholas Ohlson.

In October 2015, UNLV’s HYPER group received its first outside funding support via a check for $38,000 from the nonprofit Transforming Youth Recovery, whose mission is to establish youth recovery programs across the country. Photo courtesy Nicholas Ohlson.

 Sparking a Grassroots Movement

Founded by the Nevada nonprofit Foundation for Recovery in October 2011, HYPER began as a community-based program for 18- to 30-year-olds who are in long-term recovery from addiction. At the time, Michael Fildes was a part-time employee at the Foundation for Recovery and a student at UNLV. When Fildes saw the traction the group was gaining in Vegas, he spearheaded a chapter on the UNLV campus.

“You arrive on campus in an environment that’s not conducive to long-term recovery,” says Fildes, who had about two years of sobriety under his belt when he started at UNLV. “The strip is five minutes away from campus. Every vice a person could think of is right next door. You step on campus, and you feel like an alien.”

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