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On-campus collegiate recovery program attains success

Encouraging Cougars to break the shackles of addiction, the collegiate recovery program Cougars in Recovery is helping UH students manage their lives on campus by providing sober housing, sober activities and support on a wet campus.

Available to anyone seeking recovery or support from alcoholism and drug addiction, CIR provides a bridge for students, allowing them to be submerged in a healthy college lifestyle.

“Our goal is to provide a smooth transition for students, both academically and socially,” said Program Coordinator and CIR founder Barbra Dwyer. “When I started the program, I interviewed students and asked them what the concerns were about being on a college campus. Their responses were fears of being triggered to use, being around others who question their decision not to use, and because their parents wanted them to have accountability.”

Already in its second year of operation, CIR is providing students a line of “on-campus support;” before, such support could only be found on campuses such as University of Texas at Austin and Texas Tech, for example.

“I started the program for my son, who went to a recovery high school, and he really wanted to go to a college that would support his recovery,” Dwyer said. “All through high school he talked about going to Texas Tech, but when it came down to it, he didn’t want to be that far away from home.”

For Dwyer and her son, this program provided a service that the University lacked prior to CIR’s arrival on campus. The program supplies the necessary help to ensure students like her son remain on the path set out through the recovery high school he attended.

“When students come into a hectic college environment, they are faced with freedom and options they did not have before,” Dwyer said. “When my son and I were selecting a college, I did not want him to be somewhere were he could not find resources to support his recovery on campus. With this program, it allowed my son to be somewhere where he felt comfortable enough to be able to mature on a college campus socially and academically.”

Dwyer’s son is not the only student that has used the resources of the program to help grow at UH. Beginning his journey on campus in 2010, Lee H. joined CIR in 2013 and committed to living his life sober.

“Cougars in Recovery has helped as far as a launching pad to help me branch out and enjoy the true college experience,” Lee said. “Before getting sober I definitely remember feeling like a ghost on campus.”

By sharing living and recreational space together on campus, the program creates a community within the University that provides camaraderie for all participants in CIR.

“It’s very rewarding. There’s a lot of opportunities to get feed back and the friendship and fellowship,” Lee said. “Having that community that allows me to have friends outside of recovery and not feel threatened by the fact that other people drink or do drugs.”

CIR allows a safe haven for applicants accepted, providing separate housing and recreational areas where alcohol and narcotics are not present.

“When students make the lifestyle choice to live sober, they have to change the people, places, and things in their lives, and that’s difficult to do when they come to campus,” Dwyer said. “So a big part of our program is to just support our students and the best way we can do that is through providing sober housing and in order to allow everyone space we have to go through applications.”

Spearheading this project, Dwyer trail-blazes the program to the forefront of University activities. Dwyer has collected more than $90,000 for her program, allowing her to employ Program Director John Shiflet, manage operating fees, and expand to 20 students from three initial participants.

“From day one, the University has been extremely supportive of our program, with people asking, “Why don’t we already of one of these?’ ” Shiflet said. “Administrators have been more than gracious to give of space and support, and gave Barbra a pilot year. During that pilot year, she raised enough money for all the operation fees and my salary.”

With an office located on the first floor of Oberholtzer Hall, Shiflet is available to students and is able to plan events for students, creating a “chemical-free environment.”

“To make students in Cougars in Recovery feel like a community, we have sober events such as bowling, yoga and tailgating,” Shiftlet said. “We also have weekly meetings so our students have someone to talk to and always have some form of support present.”

Cougars in Recovery is proving their ability to improve the lives of students that partake in the program not only socially but also academically, with its participants displaying a grade point average higher than the average UH student’s GPA.

“We’re able to show when you have a student who is living in recovery, their grades reflect that, and when they slip, their grades reflect that as well,” Dwyer said. “A lot of the same stress that college students feel is intensified for our students because it is a trigger for our students to revert back, but our goal is to make sure we have the support in place on campus to support our student through those challenges.”

CIR strives to make a difference not only on campus but also throughout the city of Houston, continually providing opportunities for students to engage in community service events.

“We are here for our students to help them and support them, and we do that be giving them healthy alternatives and a chance to give back to the community,” Shiftlet said. “We volunteer at the local food bank and go to parks just so that we can have an effect not only on campus but throughout the community of Houston.”

The future and prestige of the program continues to grow as their numbers increase. CIR now appears in UH student senate discussion,  even becoming the focus of articles and documentaries.

“At the end of our pilot year we were told the University is building a brand new health center, where they have already designated a suite for our program,” Dwyer said. “As people become more aware of our programming we have gained more attention and support. This is also something that has become a tool for recruiting students overall to our campus, knowing there is support for students in recovery on campus.”

Cougars in Recovery can be found on the UH website, where links to applications are available for students interested in joining as well as students who wish volunteer in the program’s activities.

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