Q&A’s with Stacie Mathewson
Stacie Mathewson is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and national advocate for collegiate recovery, but when you first talk with her, she doesn’t sound like any of those things. What she sounds like, first and foremost, is a mom—a devoted, determined parent whose own child inspired her to try and save the lives of young people across the country.
Mathewson was already actively involved in collegiate recovery when her 29-year-old son, Timothy Joshua Montoya, lost a hard-fought battle against addiction to prescription pain medication and died in February 2013. Having stood by her son, supporting him in his struggle day by day, Mathewson now wants to channel all of that energy into helping the sons and daughters of many moms, all hoping and praying that their children will somehow beat this disease and reclaim a promising future.
What made you decide to focus your efforts on Collegiate Recovery Programs?
Actually, in the beginning I wanted to start a recovery high school here in Reno, Nevada, because there was a need for one. In the process of researching that, we had the president of the University of Nevada, Reno, over for lunch, and I told him about what I had in mind and why I was involved in addiction recovery. He mentioned the university’s CASAT—the Center for the Application of Addiction Technologies. So I met with some of the CASAT staff, who were already discussing how to set up a CRP on campus. They put together a proposal for me, and I funded it. They did so well in such a short period of time that I was really impressed with the number of students they reached and the effectiveness of the program. I started to think about the significant amount of money it would take to start just one recovery high school. For that same amount of money, I could reach out to many colleges and reach so many more students. So I decided to put the high school on the back burner and look at stimulating growth of recovery programs on campuses.
How did the Stacie Mathewson Foundation grant program begin?
Surprisingly, on a whim. I went to Washington, D.C., for the first conference on how to build a CRP—it was sponsored by the Department of Education. At the conference, I had the opportunity to look at what was going on in the industry, and I saw the need for so many programs to get started, so I stood up and asked if I could give away five grants. I just made the decision right there at the conference because I could see that there were several colleges who needed funding, and I knew that the funding I was able to provide for UNR had helped them succeed.
How do you hope to stimulate expansion of Collegiate Recovery Programs?
Along with those first five grants, I also funded an extensive feasibility study to look at what was already out there and what had made existing programs successful. We gathered all of that information together and came up with a Toolkit that was designed to help schools initiate early stage collegiate recovery efforts using their unique community assets, both inside and outside their institutions.
We also have invested in an online mapping system (http://staciemathewsonfoundation.capacitype.com) that allows programs to better network with their community assets. What we’re trying to do is stimulate growth and encourage colleges who have the intention of setting up a CRP. Every college is unique—the political setting, the student motivation, the faculty motivation, etc. Our goal is to help schools build upon and enhance the resources they already have so they can create a program that meets their specific needs and fits their individual community.
How many grants have you awarded so far?
Based on the feasibility study and resources we’ve made available at our website (http://staciemathewsonfoundation.org), I decided to extend the $10,000 grants to 100 colleges. So far, we’ve received nearly 40 applications and have funded 20, with nearly 20 more schools currently in the application process.
A CRP cannot run on a $10,000 grant, but it’s hard for a university to say no to any kind of funding, so we see this as a way to get schools to say, “OK, let’s try it.” The grant stimulates growth and opens the door to start a new effort.
Is there any kind of follow-up to the grants?
During the application process, each college must submit a plan of action. Once the grant is awarded, we go through a formal planning process so that there’s accountability. We want to see that new programs attain sustainability, so we’re looking at a three-year relationship, during which we keep in touch with them and continue offering assistance. Finally, each program is asked to respond to an annual survey so that we can learn more about what is working—and share that with others just starting out.
What do you see for the future of the collegiate recovery movement?
I see nothing but rapid growth, partially due, unfortunately, to the prescription drug epidemic. There have been so many deaths, my son included, that we’re finally getting the attention of the government and the legislature and people in general to change policies and bring awareness to this disease.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the many institutions coming to you for help?
No. I have a great staff, and we have a pretty good systematic approach to what we’re doing. The difficult part for me is that my son died from an overdose. Just dealing with that grief is so hard, but I’m fortunate to be working with universities who are very understanding of the tragedy my family has been through.
What do you wish everybody understood about young people battling any kind of addiction?
That this is a disease and that the person who has it suffers more than anyone knows. They have such an unfair disadvantage in life. This disease needs special attention, and the families dealing with it need our compassion.