Recovery conference draws students, professionals from across Virginia

Share this story

Part of our goal is to reduce the stigma associated with addiction,” Watkins said. “Once people realize that it is a disease and not a behavioral problem, we can change the way we look at it.

Rosalind and Johnny Watkins are committed to turning a personal tragedy into a triumph over addiction for young people. The Watkins family and a family friend started the JHW Foundation in honor of son Henry, who died from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs three-and-a-half years ago.

The not-for-profit foundation is focused on combating substance abuse and addiction in those between the ages of 14 to 25. The foundation is a powerful ally in efforts to support students in recovery at VCU and on other college campuses. The foundation was instrumental in the launch of VCU’s “Rams in Recovery” program in August.

“Leaders at college campuses are becoming aware of the huge need for recovery programs on campus,” Watkins said.    

The JHW Foundation and the Chris Atwood Foundation, a Northern Virginia-based nonprofit organization founded in memory of another son who died from an accidental overdose, focus on addressing some of the shame connected to addiction through social media outreach and educational and social activities. The two foundations also provided grant funding to help facilitate the first statewide Collegiate Recovery Conference in Richmond, hosted by VCU and “Rams in Recovery” on March 21 and 22.

“Part of our goal is to reduce the stigma associated with addiction,” Watkins said. “Once people realize that it is a disease and not a behavioral problem, we can change the way we look at it.”

More than 60 conference participants from VCU, George Mason University, James Madison University, Longwood University and the University of Virginia took part in workshops and social activities and heard from recovering students and from professionals in college and university settings who work with students in recovery.

Linda Hancock, Ph.D., director of VCU’s Wellness Resource Center, helped to facilitate the conference and said the purpose was to connect young people in recovery with one another and to help promote stronger support programs for them at Virginia’s colleges and universities. Many college campuses are now offering what are known as “collegiate recovery communities,” a growing movement to support students in recovery.

“There have always been recovering college students on campus but now we are trying to develop a formal structure to support them,” Hancock said. “When universities provide support, they help the students but they also strengthen the institution because students in recovery are some of the best, most-focused students.”

While separated by geography, student participants in the recovery conference pledged to continue supporting each other by participating in a weekly teleconference.

“Addiction’s hard. It’s a disease of relapse and that’s why it is so important to receive support,” Hancock said.  

Watkins is hopeful for the day when every college and university offers a college recovery community, with programming and space for recovering students to socialize.

“And what I’d really like to see is a recovery residence hall long range,” Watkins said.  


Subscribe for free to the weekly VCU News email newsletter at and receive a selection of stories, videos, photos, news clips and event listings in your inbox every Thursday. VCU students, faculty and staff automatically receive the newsletter.