Connor Bowie, intern with Rams in Recovery, and Tom Bannard, program coordinator, in the clubhouse space.

Challenge grant aims to expand Rams in Recovery program, activities

JHW Foundation supports Virginia Commonwealth University students balancing academics, long-term recovery

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A $15,000 matching challenge grant will help Rams in Recovery, Virginia Commonwealth University’s collegiate recovery program, support students in achieving academic success while focusing on wellness.

The challenge, issued by JHW Foundation Inc., will match all new gifts donated to Rams in Recovery dollar-for-dollar, up to $15,000, until June 30, 2017

The purpose of the challenge is to spread the message of collegiate recovery through Rams in Recovery while building a base of support from new donors, said Roz Watkins, chair of the JHW Foundation, which raises awareness about substance abuse and addiction in young people and supports young adults in recovery.

Watkins and her husband, John, lost their son, Henry, to an accidental overdose six years ago.

“Our son was in college and one of the challenges he would face is he would get sober and go back to college and there was no support network in place,” Watkins said. “We thought that was an important place to target.”

Rams in Recovery members on a hike.
<br>Contributed photo.
Rams in Recovery members on a hike.
Contributed photo.

Rams in Recovery’s on-campus clubhouse and meeting space is home to eight weekly recovery meetings, with four more held at other locations on campus. The coffee is always hot, and breakfast cereal is close by. Student workers ensure the clubhouse is available during evening hours for study space.

“We provide this ongoing support, through peers and community, that’s not available at most institutions. We also provide an informal, easy way to explore resources to start recovery,” said Thomas Bannard, program coordinator for Rams in Recovery.

“A lot of our students are working full or part time while going to school. It’s really helpful to have a space to go in between classes,” he said. 

The program, part of The Well, has benefited more than 60 students this semester. More than 40 students access services on a weekly basis.

“The goal of Rams in Recovery is to help ensure that students never have to choose between a college education and their recovery,” Watkins said. “A lot of people feel like, ‘I can’t go to college and stay sober.’ It gives them an environment where they can do that.”

The goal of Rams in Recovery is to help ensure that students never have to choose between a college education and their recovery.

Efforts are made off-campus, as well. Connor Bowie, a graduate student in the School of Social Work, has planned and led camping and hiking trips as an intern with Rams in Recovery.

“I think it goes back to building community, and I think that’s what we do well,” he said. “That’s what the trips do. People like to feel a part of; that has a big impact on people.” 

You’ll find Rams in Recovery students piloting a unique bicycle coffee cart across Richmond, too. The coffee bike project was spearheaded by John Freyer, assistant professor in the VCU School of the Arts Department of Photography and Film.

‘It encourages conversations about recovery,” Bannard said. “It’s pour-over coffee so it takes five minutes [to brew] and in that time, you can have a conversation. Most people in recovery are serious about their coffee, so it’s a good opportunity to engage people. 

“I think that we want to create a campus environment where people are not shackled by stigma, where they can say, ‘I’m a person in recovery’ and say that proudly, and that’s respected and valued by the community,” Bannard said. “They are around young people in recovery, who are working toward a goal.”

According to the Association of Recovery in Higher Education, collegiate recovery programs have grown from 34 in 2012 to 175 today. Programs vary, but all focus on addressing the challenges of alcohol and drug use on campuses. Rams in Recovery was founded in 2013.

The JHW Foundation has provided more than $50,000 in funding to Rams in Recovery. Two endowments provide operating funds and scholarships for students.

Rams in Recovery created a 16-member advisory board this year, another effort to garner support on and off campus.

“To build a base of annual fund donors could make sure this is here years and years in the future,” Bannard said. “I think our students are in a unique position to help change that societal dialog, and push us to be more compassionate and more thoughtful about substance use in our country.”

Rams in Recovery members on a hike.
<br>Contributed photo.
Rams in Recovery members on a hike.
Contributed photo.

To learn more about Rams in Recovery, contact Tom Bannard at (804) 366-8027 or, or visit