GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — A dorm room on Stockton University’s campus doesn’t look any different from the many others surrounding it, but its normal appearance belies its importance.

Instead of just being a place to relax, sleep and do homework, the space occupied by three young men and women is the university’s first dorm in its recovery housing program, which was established this fall to provide housing specifically for students in recovery from addiction.

“The recovery program is building a sense of community at Stockton that before wasn’t really articulated,” said Don Cassidy, director of counseling services at the school’s Wellness Center. “The program helps students maintain recovery and be successful in their academics.”

With increasing concern over the rise in addiction and overdose cases, experts say programs like recovery housing can give people a chance to rebuild their lives after active addiction and pursue a college education while getting access to therapy, 12-step programs and sober activities.

Gov. Chris Christie signed a law in August 2015 that requires colleges with significant on-campus housing populations to develop specialized student recovery housing by fall 2019. Colleges and universities can dedicate a floor, wing or other areas within a dormitory for the program.

Stockton’s program started with three students, with a fourth on a waiting list. It is a collaboration between the Wellness Center and Residential Life, with support by several administrators.

Cassidy said the university modeled its program after one at Rutgers University, which was established in 1988 as one of the earliest recovery housing programs in the country.

Madison Lawn, a graduate student intern at Stockton’s wellness center, provides one-on-one therapy sessions to students in the housing program and others on campus who may struggle with substance-use disorders.

She said the new program not only encourages continuing therapy but gives recovering students the opportunity to foster friendships with people who are like-minded in having a sober college experience.

“The program helps coordinate sober activities and events open to all students, which helps them feel connected and involved in maintaining recovery,” Lawn said. “We do yoga, meditation, an escape room or a healthy eating class. We want this all to empower their intrinsic motivation to succeed.”

Cassidy said the pilot year of the recovery housing program, which began this fall, will enable directors at the Wellness Center and Residential Life to see which services work best in order to develop the program further.

Stockton’s recovery housing program was created in part with funding from the university itself and a recent $10,000 Seeds of Hope grant from Transforming Youth Recovery, a nonprofit that focuses on students, education and substance-use awareness.

Christie announced last month that $8 million in state funding would go toward college and university on-campus recovery programs.

Lisa Laitman, director of alcohol and other drug assistance at Rutgers University, helped bring recovery housing to the university in the 1980s after recognizing aspects of college culture, including drinking, drug use and partying, may threaten a student’s recovery from addiction.

“There is a strong peer component at the heart of successful collegiate recovery programs, a way to develop friendships and a support network,” she said. “So on campus, it’s not a choice between sitting in their room by themselves or going to a party. There’s another choice in hanging out with friends who are not engaged in drinking and drug use.”

Rutgers’ program grew from four students in its first year to about 25 students today, though Laitman said in actuality the university’s recovery community is about double in size and includes students who commute or live in off-campus housing.

Using Rutgers’ model, the program at Stockton is open to students of any age who want to live in on-campus housing in a healthy environment for their recovery. If students relapse or use drugs, the program connects them to treatment centers where they can receive more extensive care.

Joe Kerstetter, licensed counselor at Stockton’s Wellness Center, said he hopes the recovery housing program helps students develop the tools and build the support systems they will need after graduation.

“It’s naive to think that out of 9,000 students, only three of them are in recovery. There are more out there that could benefit from the program,” he said. “They can show their friends that they can have a good time while being sober and maintaining a recovery lifestyle in college.”

Contact: 609-272-7022 Twitter @ACPressNLeonard

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