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Staying sober, successful in school

Robert Ashford and Paula Heller GarlandWhen Robert Ashford got accepted at UNT, he knew what he needed to do. The undergraduate in social work and psychology set out to establish a student-run organization that would help students maintain a substance-free lifestyle and promote success in school. Ashford created and became president of the Eagle Peer Recovery association, and in less than a year it has grown to help more than 600 UNT students. Among them are individuals living in long-term recovery from substance or mental health disorders to those engaged in the helping professions or who simply want to learn more and be of assistance to fellow students.

Offering consistent service, unconditional acceptance and peer advocacy, the fledgling group recently was recognized for its outstanding efforts with an Early Stage Collegiate Recovery Grant from Transforming Youth Recovery, with funding from The Stacie Mathewson Foundation, an organization dedicated to mobilizing recovery efforts in communities and especially schools.

The award will expand UNT’s resources to help more students in need and identifies UNT as one of a growing number of Collegiate Recovery Program communities — a coalition of nearly 100 institutions of higher education committed to providing a supportive environment within the campus culture that reinforces the decision to disengage from addictive behavior.

The Department of Disability and Addiction Rehabilitation will house the newly created Collegiate Recovery Program. UNT and Eagle Peer Recovery will use the award to develop target activities and easy-access services for students including sober living, academic support, peer recovery resources and scholarships.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, between 1999 and 2009 the number of college students aged 18-24 seeking treatment for substance abuse in the United States has increased by over 141 percent. A university’s ability to provide adequate recovery resources can make a critical difference in the lives of students, says Ashford, who is in long-term recovery after 10 years of addiction to alcohol and recreational drugs. He now has a 4.0 grade point average and says he never thought he would have the chance to be successful again. Being at UNT changed that for him.

“When we created Eagle Peer Recovery last June, I had no idea it would be the pinnacle moment for my own recovery,” says Ashford. “Not only do our students now have a program of support, but students not yet at UNT will be able to realize they have a university to go to that will support them in their academic success and their recovery. That means a lot to a student who might otherwise think that college is not an option for them because of the risks to their personal recovery.”

Eagle Peer Recovery hosts fun, safe and sober college social events for all students, not just those in recovery. Events such as the North Texas Sober Tailgaters at Apogee Stadium, The North Texas Recovery Film Festival and Conference, and the “Party Sober” alternative spring break are meaningful for recovering students such as Chandra Fugett, a non-traditional student majoring in social work. Fugett said she wants to engage with friends at college events without the pressure of drinking. Eagle Peer Recovery offers a positive experience.

“Not only is the program ideal for me, it is good for my 15-year-old son,” said Fugett. “I can bring him to UNT events and not have to worry what messages he is getting.”

The dedicated efforts of Ashford and fellow Eagle Peer Recovery students, faculty and staff are what make the Collegiate Recovery Program possible. Universities benefit from the program, too, said Ashford; benefits include increased enrollment, improved graduation rates and grade point averages, recovered tuition, decreased substance use violations, improved quality of life and the overall academic success of its students.

—Julie West, University Relations, Communications and Marketing

Above, Robert Ashford, president of UNT Eagle Peer Recovery, and Paula Heller-Garland, instructor of social work and the organization’s faculty advisor. (Photo by Julie West / URCM)

Posted on: Mon 07 July 2014

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