Thank you to Randy Haveson of HERO House for this lecture “How to get back into the College Setting”
Hi, everybody. I’m Randy Haveson. I’m the Founder and Executive Director of the HERO House, the higher education recovery option. We are a sober living program specifically for college students. We have locations in Atlanta, and we recently opened in Southern California. We have men and women’s programs in both locations.
First, I’d like to thank New Directions for Women for this opportunity to be here and speak to you today. The topic that I’ve chosen to talk about is how to transition back to college successfully once you’ve entered into recovery.
I watch a lot of people who go back to school after being sober for a little while, and they fail miserably. So I wanna give you some tips on how you can do it successfully so that when you do go back, it lowers the anxiety and helps build your confidence in order to be successful.
When I started the HERO House five years ago, one of the things that I found as I was interviewing treatment centers, a lot of them were saying, “We don’t like our residents or our clients to go back to college too soon. We find that they don’t do well.” It was amazing to me that these treatment centers were discouraging people from actually going back to college.
What I realized what was happening is people would go back to college, and they’d go with that mindset of, “I’ve missed so much time. I have to take 18 credits my first semester back,” or “I have to get right back into my major,” and they’d take organic chemistry and advanced calculus in their first semester and would fail miserably.
So, one of the things that we do at the HERO House is we help people to ease themselves back into a college setting. Recovery is Number 1, and it’s important to stick with the number of meetings you’ve been going to, calling your sponsor, working the steps, doing the things that you do, and adding college to that routine and slowly making that a part of your routine.
So, what we suggest at The HERO House, and what I suggest to anyone going back to school, is that in your first semester only take one or two classes and ease yourself back into it. Don’t worry about, “I’m gonna be behind another semester.” That’s not the important part. The important part is learning how to balance the recovery and the education.
So take two classes and my suggestion is take one fun class and one class that might be a little challenging for you. Maybe take a history class and creative writing, or take an anthropology class and a music appreciation class. Find something that’s gonna be fun for you to do so that when you sit down to study it’s not gonna be a chore. You’re actually looking forward to it.
Some other tips that I give to our residents is, number one, I know that everyone who’s been to college and hasn’t done well sits in the back of the room. That tends to be the place where most people hang out when they’re not really paying attention, when they’re not really doing the things that they need to do for themselves successfully academically.
What we tell our residents, sit in the first two rows of the classroom. That way you’re more engaged with the professor. We also tell ‘em don’t be a ghost in the classroom. Make sure your professor knows your name. The first day of class, go up to the professor, either before or after class, introduce yourself, shake their hand, and say, “Hi, my name’s Randy, and I’m really excited to be in your class. Thanks for being here,” or whatever it is that you wanna say that’s comfortable for you. Introduce yourself to your professor, and let them know who you are, and that’s gonna really help you later on.
That’s gonna be the difference. If the professor is debating, “Do I give the person an A or a B, or a B or a C,” you’re gonna get the higher grade if that person knows who you are and you have a connection with the professor. Make sure you talk to them. Make sure you go in for office hours. If there are any questions you have about the material that’s being presented, go and talk to the professor. They wanna know that you’re not just another Social Security number sitting in their classroom, that you’re someone who really cares about the subject matter. You are an actual student, so go in there and talk to your professor and find commonalities that you have, music or things that they talk about in class. Engage the professor.
They’re teachers because they enjoy teaching people, so let them know that you’re an eager student. You’re gonna be amazed at how much better you’re gonna be doing with your academics.
At The HERO House, by teaching these tricks and some of the other things that we do, our typical GPA any given semester is 3.2 to 3.5. And these are for students and residents who came to us. The joke I usually use with people when they get to us, for the most part our students, when they get to us, usually their BAC is higher than their GPA, but we like to help them to turn that around. We like to help them to learn that, yes, they can be successful in school.
A lot of people come to us with very low confidence, very low self-esteem when it comes to their academic performance. That’s why by easing them into it – we might pull ‘em from a four-year college and put ‘em at a two-year community college in their first semester just to kinda ease them back into it, like putting the training wheels back on the bike, so they learn their balance point and learn how to go back to school and be successful.
It’s amazing how many times we’ll get students who started out saying, “Well, maybe I’ll go into being a teacher. Maybe I’ll be an auto mechanic, or maybe I’ll be a –,” and they just choose these random things. Once they get into school – we just had a student in our program a little while ago. He said, “Yeah, maybe I’ll wanna go into psychology. I’m not really sure.” In his first semester with us, he pulled a 4.0 GPA. He came to me and said, “You know what I really wanna do, what my dream has been? I wanna go into pre-med.” It blew us away. It’s like, “Absolutely, let us help you do that and learn how to take those classes in order to be successful. If you wanna be a doctor, we’re gonna help you to do that.”
We have dozens of stories like that at The HERO House where we’ve taken people who have very low confidence. We help them to build those skills to be successful in their academics and successful in their recovery.
One of the things that I love talking about is our success rate at The HERO House. We recently did a study, and we found that of all the people who’ve graduated The HERO House program, 80 to 85 percent of ‘em are sober today. I love that fact. I love talking about these people who came in, and they’re just learning how to get sober, and they really wanna go back to school, but they’re not sure how to do it. We help them with that. A lot of what we do at The HERO House is based on self-esteem and self-confidence and helping to raise that and helping them feel like, “Wow, you know what? I can do this,” and to watch them shine.
At The HERO House, once you’re a HERO House graduate, you’re HERO House family forever. We’ve had people who have come back to us a year after they’ve graduated and sit down with our program directors and talk about, “Now, I wanna go into this. What do I need to do to make that happen? What grad school should I go to?” We help them throughout their educational process because we wanna be a support to them throughout their life and throughout their careers. Anything we can do to go out of our way to help them, we’re gonna do it.
Another unique thing about The HERO House is that our staff are not people only from the treatment field. Yes, we have people from treatment, but I also draw people from the higher education field as well. Our program director in Atlanta was the assistant dean of students on three college campuses before he came to us, so he brings that academic knowledge to our students in order to help them to be successful in that arena.
Here in California we just brought on a new program director. She was the assistant director of counseling and the director of leadership programs at a college back in Florida. We brought her to HERO House so that she could teach our students how to be student leaders, how to be successful in their academics as well as in their recovery
I believe that when someone’s in treatment, they need to have that recovery bubble, and they need to learn how to be comfortable in that new skin as a recovering person. But at The HERO House, we’re looking for those young men and women who are getting out of treatment saying, “You know what. I get it. I’m an addict. I wanna go to meetings. I wanna get sober, but I really wanna go back to school, but I’m not ready to live in an apartment on my own, and I don’t really wanna go back to a dorm. Where can I go in that in-between spot in order to be successful in both?” That’s what The HERO House does.
We don’t believe in putting our residents or our students in a recovery bubble. Some of our staff are in recovery. Some of ‘em aren’t. A lot of ‘em have higher ed training. Some of ‘em have a lot of recovery training. A lot of our recovery coaches were trained down by Synapse to be relapse prevention therapists.
We provide a lot of good balancing and a lot of life skills for our residents to teach ‘em how to be positive and productive members of society. I’m just thrilled with the work that we’re going. My staff is amazing, and our residents are doing really, really great. If there’s anyone out there who’s wanting to get back into school or wondering how to do that, you’re more than welcome to contact us.
If there’s anything I can do to help, I’m more than happy to do that. I have an hour-long program that I can do for treatment centers in sober livings on how to make that transition. I’m only given ten minutes here, so I’m hoping I’m giving you some snippets that might be helpful, but if you want something a little more extensive, I can help you out with that, too.
If there’s anything we can do to be of service to help out, we’d love to answer any questions you might have. I believe that people can go back to school right out of treatment or right into a fresh recovery program if they’re given the right support system in order to make that happen. That’s what we’re providing. I wanna see a lot more people in recovery. Whether you’ve been sober for 60 days or six years, whether you are 18 years old or whether you’re 60 years old, if you wanna go back to school, I totally encourage people all the time to follow your heart. Go back to school. Get an education. Start slow, and you’re gonna be amazed at what you’re gonna be able to accomplish.
Thank you again for this opportunity. I truly appreciate being here, and I hope to hear from some of you. We’re done.