Tiers of Membership
Creating community and success by encouraging active involvement
By BEAU DOOLEY, SANDRA GEORGE AND KELLY O’DONNELL
Founded in 2011, the collegiate recovery community (CRC) at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte is an abstinence-based collegiate recovery program that supports students in recovery from substance use disorders and provides a pathway to academic, personal and professional success. This is accomplished not only through individual therapeutic support from CRC staff but also through a myriad of programs and activities (such as educational seminars, community-building activities, social events, a merit-based scholarship program and volunteer opportunities) that are intended to build students’ recovery capital and create community peer support and a sense of belonging among students in the program.
Being physically present and engaged with the CRC is a critical component of membership and in maintaining a strong sense of community — the magic of a recovery community. Although UNC Charlotte’s CRC now boasts active involvement and robust membership, this was not always the case. Especially in the first few years of the program, large ebbs and flows in membership transpired throughout any given academic year, with only a small number of members being actively involved and routinely present at CRC programs and events at any given time. CRC staff found that these fluctuations were likely due to members craving stability and structure that was not present. To address these issues, UNC Charlotte CRC coordinator Jessica Pinti-Dunson created a Tiers of Membership policy in the spring 2017 semester in order to bring the community together and hold one another accountable for their recovery investment.
“I created this policy to help encourage participation,” Pinti-Dunson says. “We had a difficult time letting members to come to anything but social events but knew that volunteer and educational events could be helpful to maintaining recovery.”
MEMBERSHIP HAS ITS PRIVILEGES
The Tiers of Membership policy provides clear expectations on how CRC members can achieve and maintain good standing with the CRC and encourages participation and involvement with the CRC and the greater community. UNC Charlotte’s CRC includes three tiers of ascending membership status: Bronze, Silver and Gold.
In addition to sobriety time and completion of CRC requirements outlined when students join the program, a point system was devised to incentivize students to climb through the tiers; students earn points by completing activities such as (but not limited to) attending CRC-sponsored events (beyond what is required), mentoring new members, and posting or reposting official CRC social media content. Points earned reset at the beginning of each semester.
Ascending these tiers of membership requires an increasing level of involvement with the CRC but in return provides students with increasing levels of privilege.
|BRONZE REQUIREMENTS||BRONZE PRIVILEGES|
|Less than 90 days in recovery (but actively seeking abstinence)||Access to CRC room|
|Actively working their personal program||May attend on-campus CRC seminars, events, meetings, etc., not otherwise available to non-CRC students|
|Acquire at least 4 points per month (for those with less than six months sobriety)
Acquire at least 3 points per month ( for those with more than six months sobriety)
|Included on formal and informal CRC communication|
|Meets all CRC requirements|
|Silver Requirements||Silver Privileges|
|91 days or more in recovery||Bronze-level privileges plus:|
|Actively working their personal program||Eligible to apply for CRC scholarships (if they meet all scholarship eligibility criteria)|
|Acquire at least 20 points per semester||Eligible for CRC support to attend major off-campus CRC events, such as recovery conferences, Clean Break, recreational events and/or other sponsored outings|
|Meet all CRC requirements||Eligible to apply for any vacant paid or unpaid CRC student opportunities|
|Mentor new students in the CRC|
|CRC staff may write formal letters of recommendation and/or serve as professional references for applications to graduate school or jobs|
|Gold Requirements||Gold Privileges|
|Six months or more in recovery||Silver-level privileges plus:|
|Actively working their personal program||Preferred eligibility for CRC scholarships (if they meet all scholarship eligibility criteria)|
|Acquire at least 30 points per semester||Preferred eligibility for CRC support to attend major off-campus CRC events, such as recovery conferences, Clean Break, recreational events and/or other sponsored outings.|
|Meets all CRC requirements||Preferred eligibility to apply for any vacant paid or unpaid CRC student opportunities|
|Will be invited to a paid lunch once per semester with the CRC staff.|
INCREASING LEVELS OF INVOLVEMENT
The Tiers of Membership policy appears to be having an impact on CRC member involvement. Between the spring 2018 and spring 2019 semesters, the percentage of CRC Gold-level members increased by 103 percent (from 29 to 59 percent, respectively).
Conversely, the number of Bronze-level members decreased by 60 percent over the same period, from 59 to 22 percent. The number of Silver-level members remained steady (around 17 percent on average).
It is important to note that these percentages were calculated from active members in good standing with the CRC; members who were moved to inactive status for various reasons were not included in these calculations.
Additionally, as determined from satisfaction and impact surveys of UNC Charlotte CRC members between the spring 2018 and spring 2019 semesters, the percentage of students who self-reported being “actively involved” with the CRC increased by 154 percent (from 13 to 33 percent, respectively), with lower percentages of minimal involvement generally being self-reported in recent years.
Although these numbers are important in telling part of this story, UNC Charlotte CRC students’ words are even more telling:
“The educational and volunteer seminars allow the CRC members to come together as a community and be connected while serving others,” says Jessica W., an active member since October 2017. “Overall, the true community of the CRC is formed by the privileges we earn by attending events and counseling sessions. The trips we take together bond us through enjoyable, clean activities. Before recovery, having actual fun as a college student while staying sober seemed implausible, but the CRC proves time and time again that living life clean and sober is the happiest way to live it. I am truly grateful for the CRC being such an integral part of my life.”
Beau Dooley has worked in the field of college health since 2004. He currently serves as the director of the Center for Wellness Promotion at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, which houses the university’s collegiate recovery community.
Sandra George holds a high passion for community health and health education and promotion. Her passion led her to focus her career on public health work and pursue her Master of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She is currently a graduate assistant with the CRC.
Kelly O’Donnell has a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling and a graduate certificate in substance use counseling. She currently serves as the recovery support specialist at her alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.