Annual bonfire lights the way for collegiate recovery

November 15, 2019

By Michael Sim  

Students Nitin Vidyasagar (Left) and Collegiate Recovery
Coordinator Ryan Hardin (Right)
participating in The
Cove’s Fifth Annual Beach Bonfire at Seabright Beach. 
(Photo by Carrissa Villalobos)

“I’m never going to waiver in my support,” says Jorge Bru, expressing a commitment to supporting college students recovering from substance use.

When Bru was hired as the alcohol and other drugs (AOD) educator for Student Health Outreach and Promotion (SHOP) in 2014, they were recruited with a space like The Cove in mind. As a UC Santa Cruz alumnus, Bru recalls how much a collegiate recovery community would have helped them during their own time as a student in the early stages of recovery in 1999. 

“My experience would have been completely different,” Bru noted of those early years. 

Recent drug and alcohol-related overdoses on campus and a national upward trend in opioid-related deaths are troubling. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioids were involved in 47,600 overdose deaths in 2017 (67.8% of all drug overdose deaths). With opioids, alcohol, and other drug-related concerns, there has been a greater call to action. The Cove now provides free naloxone kits to anyone asking for one. Naloxine is a life-saving drug that can mitigate the effects of opioids and help prevent an overdose. 

The American Addiction Centers cites a 2012 survey by the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services which found that “about 10% of American adults who are at least 18 years old say they are in recovery from an alcohol or drug abuse issue.” This means having a substance-free space with non-judgemental and welcoming staff is important for young adults, particularly college-aged students.

“A huge piece for us is to normalize the idea that getting support is a sign of strength, not weakness,” comments Meg Kobe, the director of SHOP. “It’s always been a challenge to make sure the people that need the services know they exist. We want to give students the tools in (their) toolbelt to use for the rest of their life.” The Cove’s approach is that of “unconditional positive regard” and a harm reduction strategy.

Charting a Path Forward

When Bru was studying at UC Santa Cruz, there were not many options for those struggling with substance use. Support then meant off-campus counseling referrals from Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and infrequent group meetings. A catalyst for change would not appear until Fall 2011 when Kobe received a call from a parent who was concerned about making sure their daughter would be able to have adequate support while at UC Santa Cruz.

In those early days before The Cove existed, collegiate recovery services took the form of 1-on-1 meetings with Paul Willis, Bru’s predecessor as AOD Educator at SHOP. Familiar with how substance use can derail a person, he used the time leading up to his retirement working with Kobe, other staff, and students to develop a collegiate recovery community.

The Cove's leadership team meets weekly to discuss plans for
and events including “Humans of The Cove” and
"Harm Reduction for the Holidays". (Photo by Michael Sim)
“We all need a sense of community,” says Kobe. “Imagine being a struggling student and trying to find one. People who can’t find it don’t stay. Students make decisions based on what resources there are so having them is instrumental in students coming here.”

With the help of folks like Mike Yamaguchi-Gleeson, now the Senior Director of College and Student Life for Porter and Kresge colleges, Bru first began their work supporting students in recovery at Kresge College in Fall 2014. The Cove’s first home was a room on loan from the Arts Department. The space was underutilized and available. With Yamaguchi-Gleeson’s help, The Cove staff moved in and programming began. Over the next two years, student volunteers teamed up with Bru to lay the groundwork for UC Santa Cruz’s collegiate recovery community called, Slugs for Health and Growth, and The Cove as a collegiate recovery community space was born.

Those students shaped how they wanted it to look,” reminisces Kobe. “It was really be a part of the groundwork.”

The Cove’s first event took place in Fall 2014, the now annual beach bonfire. It was just the first step in demonstrating the need for a collegiate recovery community and space on campus. Since those early talks began in 2011, the team has grown from four students without anywhere to call their own to an AOD staff member, three front office staff, a Chancellor's Undergraduate Internship Program (CUIP) intern, and a volunteer leadership team. They also now have their own dedicated space.

A Place to Call Home

The Cove in its current home overlooking OPERS Field.
(Photo by Michael Sim)
As one of only two dedicated collegiate recovery community spaces within the UC system, alongside UC Santa Barbara’s Gauchos for Recovery, The Cove is a testament to the efforts of all the staff and students who made it what it is today.
Heading into this year, Bru and their team hope to find permanent residence in the upcoming Kresge rebuild. A ballot measure that would provide permanent space for The Cove, Slug Support, and more offices for CAPS counselors came close to passing during last year’s campus elections. Bru and their team are attempting to put the measure back on the ballot this year in hopes that it will pass.

These services are needed everywhere and this is a growing field,” Bru notes. “As students, we all earn our rights to use all the resources here on campus. You never know who in your life this might touch.”

The Cove and Slugs for Health and Growth continue their collegiate recovery services at Cowell College, open weekly from Monday to Friday, 10am-5pm and through tabling at various on-campus events.

They will be participating in Giving Day 2020, a 24-hour online fundraising drive to support UC Santa Cruz students, faculty, and campus programs. The Cove’s podcast, The Covecast on SoundCloud, will be recording its fifth episode this year. Bru promoted The Covecast’s upcoming fifth episode by saying, “It’s like watching a Netflix series. You gotta catch up.”

Read more about The Covecast in this article by Anna Maria Camardo for City on a Hill Press and stay connected to The Cove on Facebook and Instagram.