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ROCC Solid Success, Empowering Recovery and Wellness at USM

Issue 33

Now in its seventh year, the Recovery Oriented Campus Center (ROCC) at the University of Southern Maine (USM) continues to grow and expand. It promotes wellness and success for all students, but in particular, those in recovery.

“The program is based around overall recovery and what that looks like. It embraces all the different pathways to success,” explains Chris Corson, Program Coordinator. He goes on to say, “Sometimes people get turned off [by the word ‘recovery’], but in reality, we know that everyone in this world is recovering from something, especially since the pandemic. The program is about overall wellness, and that encompasses everything.”

“I think we still struggle with the stigma around mental health,” he adds. “And the stigma around people who have a relationship with substances as being ‘less than.’”

Dakota Eddy, a student at USM, says, “The ROCC is super important to USM. It helps students with more than just substance use problems. It helps them stay healthy in many ways. They do a lot of good events promoting student wellness for everybody,” she says. “We have a lot of student turnout at these events. It adds to campus life.”

Dakota’s “big passion” in the ROCC has been Narcan training, which she hopes to do more of next year.

Dakota’s work with the center is inspired by her personal history. “I lost my uncle to substance use disorder, he passed away when I was nine,” she shares. “And in the area I grew up in [Rutland, Vermont], I watched a lot of my peers in high school fall into stuff and lose the motivation for their goals.”

In the supportive climate of the ROCC, students share their recovery experience while connecting with an understanding and encouraging community. This leads to both personal and academic success.

“What we see is students graduating,” Chris says. “As of 2022, the average GPA was 3.2 for students involved in the ROCC. So we see a relationship between a college that supports students in recovery and academic success.”

The ROCC promotes this success through various channels. “Some students want to make friends in simple ways, not just at parties,” Chris says. “The ROCC helps them feel like they belong at USM. This is a key part of ROCC, to create a sense of belonging within the USM community. We organize fun activities such as weekly ROCC lunches, yoga, self-care nights, bowling, and pizza parties.”

Another branch of the ROCC includes well-attended peer-led support groups, including Mindful Men and Women of Color.

An additional emphasis of the program is financial literacy. Financial literacy is the ability to understand and effectively use various financial skills, including personal financial management, budgeting, and investing. It involves knowing how to make smart decisions in all aspects of managing money, including saving, spending, and planning for future financial needs.

“Financial stress for college students is real,” Chris emphasizes. “The issue of not having enough food or not having enough money is a big stressor that can sometimes contribute to relapse. We offer workshops to teach students about financial literacy and what that means,” he says. “How to budget, and to be OK to say, ‘I can’t go out tonight, I don’t have the money.’”

The University also celebrates Collegiate Recovery Day on April 15th each year but extends the observance to a full week of workshops and activities.

Chris notes that there is even a special graduation ceremony for students and their families who are part of the ROCC.

“We have a ‘ROCC-tail’ party with food, and do reels of photos,” he says. “We celebrate ‘most improved peers’ — peers who have pushed themselves. We celebrate people who run groups, the graduates, and a staff person who’s been chosen as a ‘ROCC ally of the year.’”

The ROCC has two designated spaces: the second floor of the Sullivan Recreation and Fitness Complex on the Portland campus, and the Farmhouse on the Gorham campus, where any student interested is welcome to drop in.

“Most of our people are fine with the concept of ‘it’s OK to not be OK,’” says Chris. “You can just be your awkward self, or your regular self, or whatever self you bring.”

“It’s just a really safe setting to come and to be around others who don’t think they have to be perfect all the time.”

“People know that if they’re struggling, there’s always somebody here to talk to,” Dakota adds. “And it’s completely judgment-free.”

Kim Wilson
Kim Wilson
Kim Wilson is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Bath. She enjoys volunteering, renovating her World War I-era home and exploring the Midcoast.

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