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Finding Sobriety at Rutgers

A new group graduates from the university’s Recovery Housing Program as Gov. Christie seeks to replicate model statewide

By Lisa Intrabartola, Rutgers Today

Frank P.’s rock bottom came during his first year at Rutgers.

He was drunk, freezing and face down in a ditch – rooting around for a bottle of liquor – when concerned friends found him and turned him over to campus police.

“I remember seeing the red and blue lights of the cop car coming to get me, and I had a white light moment,” said the 21-year-old Kensington, Md., resident.  “I can keep doing what I’m doing and keep being this person whose friends don’t feel comfortable with him, or I could actually get help for what’s going on and see what happens.”

Chances are Frank will share that story tomorrow when he and nine of his Recovery Housing roommates take the stage at an intimate commencement ceremony celebrating their graduation and their sobriety.

“At one time in the lives of these 10 amazing graduates, their families were not sure if they would live or die, let alone live to go to college,” said Lisa Laitman, director of the university’s Alcohol and Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) since 1983.  “So not only have they lived and learned how to sustain recovery, but they have earned a college degree at Rutgers in this process.”

Founded in 1988, (ADAP) Rutgers Recovery Housing program was the first on-campus college housing in the country for students recovering from alcohol and drug addiction. It started in a section of a dorm, moved to apartments and now occupies a building with capacity for 39 at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. ADAP also operates two apartments in Newark that can house eight students.

Frank and his fellow graduates will take turns at the microphone during Recovery Housing’s annual graduation dinner in the Livingston Student Center, where they speak to alumni and undergraduates of the program as well as family and friends. They will reflect on the ways their addiction laid them low and express gratitude to their supporters and Recovery Housing for being integral to their success.

“I was incredibly lucky. I didn’t know about Recovery Housing when I applied to Rutgers. I didn’t know I’d need it,” said Frank, who is graduating with degrees in English and psychology. “It turned out to be exactly the place I needed to be. It is a big supportive community full of people I could relate to in ways I couldn’t relate to anybody before in an honest open environment.”

It’s the exact environment Gov. Chris Christie plans to replicate at all New Jersey colleges. As part of his anti-addiction crusade, Christie signed a new law last year that requires recovery housing be offered by 2018 at all New Jersey public colleges where more than 25 percent of students live on campus. So far, $1.5 million has been earmarked to expand the recovery dorm program statewide.

“The ADAP staff and the Rutgers community are excited that the Rutgers Recovery Program inspired legislation that could ultimately positively impact the lives of many more New Jersey college students in recovery,” said Laitman.

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