Celebrating Seventh Year, UConn Community Offers Support for Students in Recovery

Graduate student Evan Lentz and program coordinator Sandy Valentine say the UConn Recovery Community offers students a supportive and helpful environment. (UConn Photo/Sean Flynn)

The gray-shuttered windows of the Cordial Storrs House look out over Route 195 and across the sprawling Great Lawn between the busy campus thoroughfare and the brick façade of Gulley Hall.

So inconspicuous is the historic, white house that you might walk right past it on its perch above a stone retaining wall, never noticing its brick chimney or the regular comings-and-goings from within. Built in 1757, the Cordial Storrs House is the physical home of the UConn Recovery Community, or URC – a supportive community where students who are in addiction recovery, or who are pursuing addiction recovery, can come together for resources as well as interactions with their peers in an open, welcoming, and substance-free environment.

Celebrating its seventh anniversary this month, the URC offers recovery meetings and programs, community-building events, and potential residential living space at the Cordial Storrs House for UConn students in recovery from substance misuse or substance use disorders.

“The mission of the community is to provide support to students in recovery and those who are in hope of recovery so that they can achieve their academic goals,” says Sandy Valentine, the URC’s program coordinator. “But we also want them to have a genuine college experience – we want to be able to build them up so that they can participate in everything that UConn has to offer.”

That genuine college experience includes encouraging URC members to engage in UConn academically and recreationally while also offering support options for students in addiction recovery. In long-term recovery herself, Valentine is a certified recovery coach professional who came to UConn to work with the URC in late 2018, and she’s quick to stress that although most students are abstinence-based in their recovery, the URC supports multiple pathways of recovery.

“We are supportive of whatever pathway is going to provide a healthy outcome for our students,” Valentine says.

For graduate student Evan Lentz ’19 (CANHR), the openness he found at the URC wasn’t what he initially expected, but it kept him involved in the community through his time as an undergraduate.

“I’m not in what you’d call abstinence-based recovery,” says Lentz, who had been in and out of various university settings before finding his sobriety and later coming to UConn to study horticulture. “I guess they hadn’t had a student there yet with that situation, but there was no pressure that abstinence-based is the only way to go. And I think that was the main reason I came back.”

“People in recovery, or people still addicted – they actually are the best resource for their own recovery or wellness plan,” Valentine says. “It’s how we interact with them and how we bring that out of them. We walk alongside a student in recovery or needing recovery and help them identify the things that are working well for them. Where are you struggling right now? How can I help you? How can I advocate for you on campus, in whatever way that is?”

Part of that help is through All Recovery Meetings, which are inclusive of any sort of recovery and don’t follow a particular doctrine, every Monday, as well as breakfast and drop-in hours on Wednesdays. The URC also began offering 12-Step Recovery Yoga last fall, with those sessions now taking place on Friday evenings at the Cordial Storrs House.

A group of students who belong to the UConn Recovery Community pose for a photo at Cordial Storrs House.
UConn Recovery Community program coordinator Sandy Valentine, center, with students at Cordial Storrs House. (UConn Photo/Sean Flynn)

“It’s wellness-focused,” says Lentz of the URC’s programs. “It’s not all doom and gloom about addiction recovery. There’s the capacity and the drive behind it to have it be a fun community of people who have this one thing in common, not only a place to come and talk about your problems all the time. It’s a community.”

Last year, Valentine launched UConn’s Recovery Ally Training Program to expand awareness, sensitivity, and support to students currently in or seeking recovery from substance use disorders. While initially offered to students, the Recovery Ally program also provides training opportunities for faculty and staff who want to better understand the complex nature of addiction as a disease, and learn how to be a resource to UConn students who are struggling with substance use.

“We want to provide students with the peer support, understanding, connection, and services for them to be able to have good, healthy recovery,” Valentine says. “But we want them to be able to join any activity – whether it’s an athletic team, club, sports, whatever UConn has to offer. We can make it safer and more supportive by impacting the culture on campus, which is where Recovery Allies can play an important role.”

The URC also offers a scholarship for students participating in the community. Established in 2015 by the sister of John Carter Whitney, who died of an overdose after becoming addicted to opioids while in college, the scholarship has been awarded twice since its inception, and Valentine is looking to grow its capacity to support additional URC students.

While the prospect of coming to a recovery meeting for the first time can be intimidating, Lentz encourages students to give it a try – when they’re ready for it – and to put aside concerns about what other people might think or say.

“Recovery – it’s just like any other choice that you make,” Lentz says. “It’s something that someone else has chosen to do. And it’s a pretty admirable thing that someone has chosen to do, and it’s a pretty tough thing that someone has chosen to do. It can be a little bit daunting, but I think everyone’s impression after their first meeting is that this is a great place, they feel very comfortable, even if they don’t say anything during the meeting.”

Whether it’s a meeting, or yoga, or just taking a flyer from a table in the Student Union, Valentine says she wants students who are struggling to know that the URC is available as a resource, no matter the path they might currently be walking.

“UConn has a place for students needing recovery support services – because students are getting into recovery now in middle school and high school – and they need higher education opportunities that are have recovery supports in place,” says Valentine, “and our University and the Recovery Community are ready to receive them.”

To learn more about, or to connect with, the UConn Recovery Community, or to sign up for a Recovery Ally training session, visit URC.uconn.edu.