Courtesy of The Healing Highlanders
Courtesy of The Healing Highlanders

A part of what makes UCR a comfortable space for students is the abundant amount of programming provided for a wide range of issues. From The Student Wellness Partners to UCR Active Minds, student groups have been remarkable in creating healthy environments for overall well-being.

A relatively new addition to campus, Healing Highlanders, is a collegiate recovery community aimed at providing a supportive safe-haven for students recovering from addiction. A student might be tempted to automatically think of addiction in the form of recovery groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) meetings. Alcoholism and drug abuse may be the only things that come to mind. Addiction recovery can encompass a number of different issues, much more than meets the eye. Essentially, any practice can turn into a dangerous habit. After speaking with Fabiola Escobedo, a third-year psychology major and public relations officer for Healing Highlanders, it’s pretty clear that addiction comes in many shapes and sizes.

The club kicked off in 2011 by founder Mariel Bello and was named New Student Organization of the Year by the University of California, Riverside. Modeled after the collegiate recovery community of Texas Tech University, Healing Highlanders is focused on community service, general outreach and providing an outlet for those in need. The stigma surrounding addiction recovery can be seemingly narrow-minded. Because they already have so much on their plate, college students are rarely conceived as those needing support networks for recovery from addiction. Because of this, students who may need those resources can become lost in the jumble of campus life. In spite of the stigma, awareness and outreach is growing rapidly among the UC system. The need for peer support is a main factor in the creation of clubs like Healing Highlanders.

From video games and food, to love, sex and belonging, any form of addiction can be addressed in a recovery support groups. “We’re here to provide the resources to help you get through college. Sometimes addictions can be what prevents people from finishing their four years”, says Escobedo. Care for those in recovery is essential despite the form of addiction. With the growth from last year’s five members to now 40, Healing Highlanders provides weekly general meetings as well as weekly 12-Step meetings with advisors to facilitate discussion. Those who attend are able to discuss their journeys of recovery and receive the comfort of belonging to a supportive atmosphere.

The club recently hosted the California Unified Collegiate Recovery Conference at Pentland Hills from October 20-21. The two day conference incorporated a number of keynote speakers including Peter Gaumond, chief of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and Dr. Harry L. Haroutunian, physician director of The Betty Ford Center. The conference began with an Exhibitors Expo followed by group discussions, interest sessions, speaker presentations and 12-Step meetings. The conference also included a presentation from former Major League Baseball player Trevor Hoffman and a Natural High Dance Event held at the Student Recreation Center (SRC), featuring the band Cosmic SuckerPunch. Healing Highlanders has even teamed up with schools like UCSB to introduce the collegiate recovery community to the west coast.

Stacie Mathewson, founder of the Stacie Mathewson Foundation, was also in attendance for the conference. Mathewson’s foundation supports sobriety and recovery from addiction. With no idea of her plans, the club was in total shock when Mathewson presented Healing Highlanders with a $10,000 donation on the last day of the conference. The club was awarded the donation for their efforts in creating a successful recovery community and their dedication to the cause. Some of the plans for the donation include future conference funding and working toward making a space on campus for their organization.

With the success of their past conference and a gracious donation under their belt, Healing Highlanders is motivated to start working on new community service projects. The club will join the MFI Recovery Center in a new mentorship program for high school students who may be dealing with addiction or recovery. Some of the funds received in the donation will also go towards providing resources for the participants and field trips for them to enjoy.

Anyone can become a part of Healing Highlanders, whether they are in recovery or want to get involved with community service and outreach. General meetings and 12-Step meetings will begin on campus. Healing Highlanders is a new and shining example for student-run organizations on campus, and they’ve got a $10,000 donation to prove it.