VCU to help expand substance use recovery programs at eight other Virginia universities

Tom Bannard and Gov. Ralph Northam
Tom Bannard, program coordinator for VCU Rams in Recovery, speaks during a press conference at the Governor's Mansion. At right is Gov. Ralph Northam. (Pat Kane, University Public Affairs)

Virginia Commonwealth University has received $675,000 from the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services for the expansion of substance use recovery programs at eight universities across the state.

Staff, members and supporters of Rams in Recovery — VCU’s collegiate recovery program — joined Gov. Ralph Northam, M.D., first lady Pamela Northam and other officials outside the Governor’s Mansion Wednesday morning to announce the grant.

Rams in Recovery will serve as a model and provide oversight for eight partner schools — Longwood University, Radford University, University of Mary Washington, University of Richmond, University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Virginia Union University and Washington and Lee University — as they develop and broaden their on-campus recovery communities.

“Young people who are often living away from home for the first time can be particularly vulnerable, and college campuses can be difficult places if you’re trying to avoid drinking or using substances,” Northam said. “Collegiate recovery programs provide critical resources to help students in recovery have a successful college experience and give them the tools they need to be healthy and thriving well beyond graduation.”

Tom Bannard, program coordinator for Rams in Recovery, told the crowd how collegiate recovery affects families and communities.

“Folks around this circle are proof. Each of the folks here who are in recovery have families whose whole trajectories have changed,” he said.

Over the next two years, each of the eight schools will receive support in the manner of site visits, daylong retreats and monthly calls to help implement programming and outreach strategies and coordinate on-campus services. Staff will be trained to deliver recovery ally training, in addition to being connected to a national network of collegiate recovery professionals.

“Once you start supporting students in recovery, they thrive. Their success attracts other struggling students into the program and they motivate other people in recovery to come back to school. It’s a wonderful cycle to watch,” Bannard said. “There is an exponential effect when people get into sustained recovery. It will be really exciting to see how that translates to other campuses.”

Devona Spencer, an AmeriCorps peer recovery specialist at Rams in Recovery, said the group is the “epitome of help.”

“Rams in Recovery is the model for it, and I believe that we’re going to do excellent things,” she said of the expansion.

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