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WVU students finding recovery from addiction at Serenity Place

By CONOR GRIFFITH

The State Journal

MORGANTOWN, W.Va.  — Serenity Place, home of the WVU Collegiate Recovery Program, allows students to take the lead in supporting one another on the road to sobriety.

Located inside the house at 369 Oakland St., Serenity Place is open from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. (with hours varying during the weekends) seven days a week. There, students can socialize, study, host sober tailgates prior to football games, hold support meetings and engage in therapeutic activities.

Since returning to college, WVU student Arthur Spirou says Serenity Place has been a safe place for him to go to take a nap, or even teach himself music — free of temptation.
(State Journal photo by Conor Griffith)

Cathy Yura, the program’s director, said that during a 10-year period, the number of young people who experienced drug or alcohol abuse before even getting to college increased by 140 percent.

Also, she said, while some colleges had recovery programs as far back in the 1970s, it was only in the past five years that universities began to realize how important it is to have a safe space for those in recovery.

“WVU realized that a lot of families had been impacted, whether it was in their own lives or family members, somebody in their community,” Yura said, referring to the ongoing opioid crisis. “And so there were a couple years ago when we thought, ‘Let’s see if this works.’”

That, she said, is how Serenity Place came into being.

It’s one of 170 collegiate recovery programs in the country and one of only 22 that have whole houses dedicated to that purpose. While Marshall University is at work putting together a similar concept, WVU’s is the first of its kind in the state and is free to all students.

Yura said Serenity Place is a student-focused program where students engage with and support one another.

Those who want to share their stories are encouraged to, but they are not pressured to do so.

After taking peer mentoring courses, students staff the house, with two of them being present at all times.

Arthur Spirou, a student in recovery, said drugs and alcohol once governed his life to the point that he had to take a break from school to seek treatment. He said he’s been coming to Serenity Place for about a year, noting that a visit can be something as simple as stopping by for a nap.

“Coming back to finish my degree, it’s been really important to have a place like this where I can go and know that I can socialize with other people,” Spirou said. “I don’t have to worry about being around temptations that can throw me off. It’s not like this is a cure for my addiction. I still have plenty of things I have to do for myself.”

Spirou said Serenity Place is all the more important because he reached a point where he didn’t know how to socialize without substances — something he said can be a challenge for students in Morgantown, especially during weekends.

Stephanie Solomon, one of Serenity Place’s parent advocates, said her son also struggled with addiction. When working with parents, Solomon said her goal is to offer hope. Parents are often in denial initially about addictive behaviors, thinking their child is going a party phase that will pass, she said.

“So many times they come in and they’re hopeless,” Solomon said. “They think in some cases it’s a death sentence, and it is if we can’t the student in some form of rehab or recovery. We meet with whatever need they come in with.”

Solomon said participation in Serenity Place is completely voluntary but the support offered by the community compels visitors to return.

Yura said Serenity Place also employs an AmeriCorps VISTA worker 40 hours a week on weekends and evenings to help students go over financial planning. She said that service is of immense importance because recovery is an expensive process, and many students that go through it don’t return to college.

Program donors, she said, have kept the house kitchen fully stocked at all times and made sure there were plenty of instruments with which to engage in musical therapy.

In keeping with the mission of the program, paintings by Elkins artist Ruth Blackwell Rogers adorn the walls, detailing a friend’s journey from addiction to recovery.

Staff writer Conor Griffith can be reached by at 304-395-3168 or by email at [email protected]

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