By Silvia and Jim Hatzell, Parents Council
We both graduated from Penn State in 1987. We were married in 1988. Like many young Penn State alumni couples, we dreamed that someday we would have children, and they too, would go to Penn State. Fast forward thirty years later, and yes, all three of our children went on to Penn State! Collectively, they have had some of the best opportunities Penn State has to offer; a great education, Schreyer Honors College, Presidential Leadership Academy, academic scholarships, excellent internships and job placement, study abroad, research assistantships, learning assistantships, Thon, club sports, intramural sports and just an overall, fun and balanced education. However, no program has meant more to our family than the Penn State Collegiate Recovery Community, or the CRC.
In the summer of 2013, between his sophomore and junior year at PSU, our oldest son, Jimmy, crashed from a struggle with drugs and alcohol. During that time our family was in crisis. We had no experience with this addiction and our immediate reaction was that the last place we wanted our son to be was at Penn State. While we were frantically searching for a substance use disorder rehabilitation facility we also placed a call to Jason Whitney, the Director of the CRC. During the conversation, Jason affirmed that Jimmy should go to rehab, but he also assured him that his best days at Penn State were still ahead of him. While we appreciated Jason’s sentiments, we were extremely skeptical that Jimmy would ever return to Penn State.
After Jimmy completed treatment in early September of 2013, he stayed home with us for that fall semester. He was determined to continue his education and graduate in four years. He took twelve credits through Penn State World Campus and frequently attended support group meetings. We had told him, that if he did all that was agreed, we would permit him to return to University Park in January.
January came. We were a little nervous about sending our newly sober son back to a campus with a big party reputation. However, he had maintained communication with Jason during the semester, and had made some new friends who were part of the CRC. Jason had also made arrangements for Jimmy to share an apartment with another student in recovery. (Penn State has since added sober living dorms.)
Jimmy did go on to have his best years at Penn State when he returned as a student in recovery. The CRC is not just an office in the Pasquerilla Center. The CRC is the family and support a young person needs when he returns to an environment that is hostile to recovery. The CRC’s mission is to provide a caring and supportive environment for students working to recover from addictions. The CRC communicates a message of hope, links students with recovery-related services and persons in recovery, and facilitates the development of healthy and sustainable habits of mind, body, and spirit. Through the pairing of education and recovery, students are positioned to transition into fulfilling lives as productive members of the campus community and the larger society. The CRC encourages students to continue their education while in recovery in order to create the life of their wildest dreams.
The Penn State CRC has grown rapidly since it was established in 2011. Beginning with just a couple of members back then, there are currently about 25 active members. Students attend weekly seminars and lunches, as well as participate in community bonding activities. Students annually attend the Association in Recovery in Higher Education’s Student Leadership Summit and Skiathon in Colorado with students from other CRCs across the country. There are so many fun opportunities made possible, including spring break trips, hikes, game nights and more. The Penn State CRC also offers the option of on-campus recovery housing for members in R.O.A.R. House, an acronym for Residence of Addiction Recovery. There are currently 8 students living in the ROAR house who have become great friends. You can obtain more information about Penn State CRC at their website, sites.psu.edu/pscrc/.
Because of his determination, and the help of many people at Penn State that really wanted our son to succeed, Jimmy did graduate in four years, with two degrees, in IST. He made Dean’s List every semester when he returned as a student in recovery. He is now in his fourth year of recovery, he is gainfully employed in IT, he just purchased his own home and he maintains a very active social life with many other young people in recovery.
The following are a sample of other testimonials about the Penn State CRC:
The CRC was my first experience with students who were happy, who were sober, and who were living their dreams. When I got there, they told me, “Your best days at Penn State are ahead of you.” I thought there was no way that could be true. But they were 100% correct.
— Jimmy H., IST. Class of 2015, free of alcohol and other drugs since 8/1/2013
When I entered recovery, I had to adopt a new lifestyle. If I continued to hang around with the same people in the same places, I would be at high risk for repeating the same behaviors—and that’s a risk I wasn’t willing to take. I found new friends who understood and supported me and started navigating the world with a totally different attitude and outlook. I didn’t know if I would ever be able to return to school — especially at a large university like Penn State. I used to fear that my life would be boring or that I’d feel out of place as a sober student, but that couldn’t be further from the truth—as a member of the CRC, I’ve found acceptance, love, connection, and laughter beyond anything I’ve ever experienced.
—Melissa B., free of alcohol and other drugs since 5/4/2015
When my career at Penn State was off the rails, and before I had even considered quitting drinking and working a recovery program, I learned about the CRC. The other students convinced me that I could do it, and I jumped in with both feet. I attend seminars at the CRC, and I work a program outside the CRC by attending 12-step meetings and going to counseling, and I’ve stayed sober and I really like this whole way of life.
— Jack W., free of alcohol and drugs since 12/18/2015
My first encounter with the CRC allowed me to see that I was not alone in my battle with addiction. I found the support I needed in this community on the first day with a warm welcome and encouraging messages of hope. It was a pivotal moment in my undergraduate career to find the friendship and help I needed. The CRC has supported my goal to graduate while providing a safe place for me to be a sober student.
—Robbie E., free of alcohol and other drugs since 2/21/2014
Last year I had disenrolled from Penn State to go to rehab, but I returned, and with the help of the CRC, I’ve found belonging and happiness, I’m staying sober, and I’m doing great in school — my dream of going to medical school has been revived, and I am back on track.
— Ryan M., free of alcohol and other drugs since 4/11/2016