Program Grows Big in Texas
After years of grassroots efforts to carve out a place of their own, students in recovery at Baylor University have their wish granted by back-to-back gifts from the community.
“I view recovery as a secret superpower — but one that requires training,” says Lilly Ettinger, recovery program coordinator in Baylor University’s Department of Wellness. “People in recovery don’t often realize the source of their strength, but when they learn and put that learning into action, they can do anything they set their minds to.
Ettinger, herself in long-term recovery, has seen that strength in action on campus, growing in a grassroots effort from when she was a student to her current role steering a fledgling campus recovery program with powerhouse financial and administrative backing. She’s watched it come a long way from 2011, when students in recovery formed an off-campus Alcoholics Anonymous group, to fall 2017 with the opening of the Beauchamp Addiction Recovery Center (BARC), which was made possible with a $2.5 million gift from Bob and Laura Beauchamp of Houston.
Beauchamp (pronounced “Beecham”), chair of BMC Software and member of the Baylor Board of Regents, and his wife set their sights on students in recovery to give these individuals who have come so far personally an opportunity to succeed in their education. “Laura and I strongly believe that young men and women who are struggling with addiction should be supported and treated with compassion and grace,” Beauchamp says. “We believe Baylor, as a Christian university, should be the best in the world at supporting its students who are struggling. Removing the stigma of addiction is crucial to ensuring that students feel they can seek out resources to help them overcome their challenges and fully realize all that God is calling them to become.”
This fall, the BARC will start providing support services for students who are in the initial stages of identifying an addiction, including counseling and possible referral to off-campus rehabilitation, as well as continued support for students who have completed rehabilitation programs. The program also provides reintegration support for students who may have left school and for students who are already in recovery.
The center offers weekly support and community recovery meetings, recovery coaching, and conversations with mentors as well as campus wide educational outreach efforts that identify social environmental influences, provide education on the support services and encourage peer-to-peer support.
The Beauchamps’ gift makes possible a giant leap for a school that has already been making consistent strides in improving the quality of life for students in recovery.
Although Baylor’s Counseling Center and Department of Wellness have long offered recovery support services, Student Life staff identified a need for outreach and a social component — and worked to make inroads in those types of services with the resources they had.
“In the spring of 2015, we created a recovery group for women who wanted to attend local meetings but were uncomfortable doing so,” says Ettinger, who at the time was a graduate assistant working in the Spiritual Formation Program. “Because our only advertisement was placing a message on a bulletin board, I expected something like four people to turn out. Instead, we got 11 women in various types of recovery.”
Knowing they had tapped into something, Ettinger worked closely with Don Arterburn, the addictive behavioral specialist in the Counseling Center and former Association of Recovery in Higher Education (ARHE) board member, who built a relationship with the program’s first donor. Thanks to Aubrey and Carolyn Holt, the Holt Family Fund gave $250,000 toward programming and funded a part-time salary for Ettinger, who had earned a master of divinity in leadership in December 2015. “Don was instrumental in getting our program off the ground,” she says. “He had gone to Texas Tech and knew its model well.”
The funding allowed the program to expand its offerings to include more social events and outreach. Recovery questions were added to incoming student surveys, and Ettinger was present at new student orientations, handing out “Pugs Not Drugs” buttons, which she says are “super popular” with both current and incoming students. “The support we received from the university — from the bottom to the top — has been amazing,” she says.
But things were about to get even more incredible.
Blessings from the Beauchamps
The program’s growth caught the attention of the Beauchamps, who had funded the creation of the school’s Beauchamp Athletics Nutrition Center in 2013. In the summer of 2015, Arterburn met with a student mentioned knowing someone who would be interested in donating to further the mission of recovery on campus. The donor only wanted to know one thing: “What do you need?”
By the spring of 2016, a proposal began in earnest, and through the summer, a team of Student Life and University Development staff worked together. By the fall, Ettinger was presenting the program to a variety of Baylor constituents, and the original dream of a million-dollar endowment expanded to $2.5 million.
“I told them the students had been asking for a dedicated space,” she says. “At the time, we were sharing space with the rest of the Department of Wellness. It wasn’t very inviting, and people often confused it with the Counseling Center because we were on the same floor. Students wanted a safe place to go where they knew people wouldn’t be talking about parties. Previously, if they wanted to find such a space, they had to negotiate with local churches and be dependent on rooms that were not designed for them. There was a lot of instability over the years.”
As they set about identifying locations on campus, however, they discovered the challenges of carving out a dedicated space at a fast-growing university. “Our population has expanded tremendously over the past few years,” Ettinger says. “I’ve been going to school or working here for 12 years. It was around 11,000 undergraduates when I started, and now our total enrollment is nearly 17,000. Space is at a premium; many student groups do not have their own areas.”
The program found its sweet spot, so to speak, in a 2,000-square-foot former convenience store/frozen yogurt shop nestled on the first level of the engineering dorm. The space was perfect for housing two recovery staff offices, a break room, bathroom and an open L-shaped space to house a bookcase filled with recovery resources, a television, comfortable chairs and couches.
With the demand for services growing, Ettinger also requested funding for additional staff. “At that time, it was just me, and I was only part time until September 2016,” she says. A second full-time employee was hired to manage the alcohol prevention programming and work with students who are seeking recovery. In addition, 13 peer leaders help with recovery and wellness programs around campus.
The previous summer, 96 students had requested more information on the program; of those, 24 became regular participants. This initial cohort consisted of members from the women’s group as well as freshmen, transfer and graduate students. “We had several law students who attended consistently,” Ettinger says. “They went through college sober and are great with sponsoring undergrads. It’s wonderful to have people in the program who are still in the academic environment but are a little bit older.”
Turbocharging Outreach and Busting Stigma
In May 2017, the program received an additional boost with a gift from the Baptist General Convention of Texas designed to enable the BARC’s staff to educate the Student Life staff on addiction and collegiate recovery and support the staff’s efforts to improve recovery ministry education for Baylor’s ministry guidance students. The funds will also be used to help create a recovery prayer project and liturgical services in conjunction with local churches and Spiritual Life and to improve the recovery library available to students at the BARC.
Ettinger also hopes to use some of the funding this fall to book chapel speakers who can speak on how collegiate recovery integrates with faith and to host an information table outside the chapel. “Every new student is required to take a year of chapel, so it’s a very visible way to make our presence known,” she says.
As senior pastor of a local rural United Church of Christ, Ettinger is circulating within her network to raise awareness for the recovery program’s initiatives and is working with area churches that are pro-recovery. “In more conservative, ‘personal responsibility-oriented’ churches, you sometimes find shaming dialogue,” Ettinger says. “There are students who come into recovery here who have experienced some kind of ‘God trauma’ or religious shaming in their past. This makes it harder to be in recovery — especially in a highly religious environment — and we want to help change this. So we are using part of this funding to address stigma reduction and work with churches to create such resources.”
Ettinger came out of the gate strong during National Recovery Month in September. The recovery group held its second moonlight yoga event in Fountain Mall in the center of campus — “It’s the only time of day that it is cool enough to be outside,” she quips — and a free screening of the movie Generation Found, which tells the story behind the creation of a youth addiction recovery support system in Houston, at the Hippodrome Theatre downtown later in the month.
Two seminars also are planned: “New to Be You” for those new to recovery or in recovery but new to Baylor and a second for upper-level students who wish to be active in more of a leadership capacity in the center and participate in conferences — a role that Ettinger encourages. “In February, we had five students who showed leadership potential attend the [ARHE] Collegiate Recovery Student Summit in Colorado,” she says.
Future initiatives from the Beauchamps’ gift include merit- and service-based scholarships awarded to students in recovery and the creation of housing space on or near campus that will allow Baylor to match students in recovery with others who are committed to supporting their success.
Some of the benefits come in a warm and fuzzy variety. “The Beauchamps love therapy dogs, and they encouraged us to be involved with Angel Paws, an animal-assisted therapy group,” Ettinger says. “We are working to have the organization come to our center every other week — not just for the students in recovery but for anyone who would like to visit with the dogs.”
To Ettinger, individuals in recovery are model students — and colleges should give them more credit. “They are a huge asset,” she says. “These are not the students who are partying all night. These are not the students who are no-shows. It might take them some time to learn to have fun and make friends. There’s a learning curve. But we get to train students to be happy, integrated and thriving. Our students who find recovery here go on to do amazing things. It makes me very excited to see them progress and grow.”