The center supports students who have struggled with substance misuse and addiction who are now committed to sobriety while also leading campus efforts in education to spread awareness about the dangers of addiction and the availability of recovery resources on campus.
St. Cloud State’s recovery services began as a residential Recovery Community in 2012. Housed in Coborn Plaza Apartments, it was the first residential-based collegiate recovery program in the Upper Midwest.
Program Coordinator Thaddeus Rybka has been part of the recovery efforts since the start. He began working with the community as a graduate student coming from a successful undergraduate experience in a recovery community at Augsburg College.
After graduating with his Master of Business Administration, he returned to work as coordinator of the program.
“I myself am a person in long-term recovery from an opioid addiction,” Rybka said. “I’ve lived it and been through the toughest time and overcome my addiction.
“I work closely with students who have similar experiences, and that’s why it’s so rewarding the work that I do.”
In 2013 the Students Taking Action in Recovery and Service (STARS) student organization launched to give students a visible presence on campus to spread the word about recovery and reduce stigma.
Students in recovery were able to connect through STARS, but there was no physical space for them to connect, said Jen Johnson, interim director for Alcohol & Other Drug Prevention at St. Cloud State.
“Now it’s amazing for them to come and connect with others and feel supported,” she said.
One of the students making connections today is Krista Tomford ’19, now a graduate student in her first semester in the rehabilitation and addiction counseling program.
As an undergraduate she interned with the Recovery Resource Center and helped to plan for the center’s launch. She advised on guidelines for the center, helped choose books for the resource library and made suggestions about features to be included.
Tomford began her undergraduate career at St. Cloud State in 2010.
She got caught up in the party scene and her grades started slipping. She stopped going to classes and her problematic behavior became a habit.
She fell into addiction to both alcohol and opioids and took a break from school.
At that point I was 22, 23, so it was a really confusing time for me,” Tomford said. “I think that when you’re young you realize you have an issue, but you don’t think that it’s permanent. You think
‘Oh, I’ll just try really hard and I’ll be fine. I’m not an alcoholic, I’m too young.”
“That keeps you in denial and reinforces the same behavior.”
Tomford started out with alcohol, but was willing to experiment. She tried oxycodone and then stronger drugs. Eventually she started using heroin because it was cheaper than prescription medications and easier to find.
“When I started back it was fall 2017, and at that point I’d been sober about nine months,” she said. “My first year along it was just about acclimating back into the school climate.”
At the end of that first semester a friend introduced her to Recovery Resource Center Program Coordinator Thaddeus Rybka.
“The next year I came in and said ‘I want to be involved’, it was really good to kind of hold me accountable,” she said.“I also saw that there was a real need for someone to step up and be a student leader.”
Rybka encourages students to volunteer in the community and on campus. He encourages them to step out of their comfort zone and share their stories to help others, Tomford said.
“It’s good to push yourself out of your comfort zone,” she said. “In the long run it really just helps you grow so much.”
This semester she is a graduate assistant working with Healthy Huskies and Peer Wellness.
“For me at the end of the day it’s not just about staying sober and on a good path, it’s about working on my mental health and working on my relationships with people and my professional aspirations,” she said.
Now she hopes to use her experiences to support others in recovery. Her experiences will help her to empathize with her clients — let them know she knows where they’re coming from and how difficult the struggle can be.
“At the end of the day my passion is just helping others,” she said.
New center reaching more students
With the expansion to a center this fall, even more off-campus students are able to connect to recovery resources because of greater awareness and the ability to serve other types of recovery such as recovery from eating disorders and those affected by loved ones with substance use disorders, Rybka said.
“Many of our students have co-occurring disorders,” Rybka said. “It’s not just substance misuse, its PTSD, its mental health. There’s a lot of other factors at play.”
It also gives students who are thinking about recovery a chance to explore because there aren’t restrictions attached. It’s a welcoming, fun environment.
Students might have a stereotypical view of recovery as people in an AA meeting in a church basement, but recovery comes in many forms, Rybka said.
“Coming to a safe space like this they’re able to see recovery in action and see other students doing it, and that might plant that seed — people are having fun without substances,” he said.
Students interested in joining the center need to meet with Rybka and sign a commitment agreement and complete apersonal recovery plan. When they do they see success. Recovery Community students often have GPAs above average at St. Cloud State.
The center then offers support groups, sober activities, resources and a place to relax and study.
“I’m a true believer that no student should have to sacrifice their education for recovery or their recovery for education,” Rybka said. “A lot of these students are getting a second chance, and it changes their perspective on life and where they’re going.”