(this one!) Student Health Services kicks off National Recovery Month

Ryan Calderon and Alli Maiorano, marketing assistants for Student Health Services, educate students about resources for recovering students on campus Monday. "Spill the Tea on Recovery" was the first event of National Recovery Month at UCF this year.

Student Health Services "spilled the tea" on National Recovery Month by providing free tea bags at the Student Union Monday.

"Spill the Tea on Recovery" kicked off NRM and was UCF’s way of providing outreach to bridge the gap between recovering and non-recovering students. Wellness & Health Promotion Services collaborated with SHS on the event, supplying tea bags and fresh lemongrass from its FreshU kitchen. 

Crystal Zavallo, professional recovery coach and SHS marketing communications specialist, said UCF's participation in NRM is a way to "reduce the stigma" attached to recovery.

“It’s letting those who are in recovery know that, 'Hey, UCF has services available,'" Zavallo said. "And to those who are not in recovery and maybe don't have any types of relationships with substance (abuse) or anything, they can see that these types of services are offered and hopefully have a favorable opinion of those and of those utilizing the services.” 

UCF has participated in recovery efforts and substance abuse support since 2011, when the university introduced Narcotics Anonymous meetings on campus. UCF became the first public university in Florida to offer comprehensive recovery support through programs like NA, Alcoholics Anonymous, counseling and other support services, according to the UCF College of Medicine.

The themes for NRM change yearly, and this year’s theme, “Turn ‘I’ into ‘We,’” emphasizes community and the idea that one is not alone in their road to recovery. In UCF’s yearly iterations of NRM, celebrations have ranged from doing an event every week to doing multiple events a week. However, that all changed due to COVID-19, Zavallo said, as large gatherings on campus are discouraged.

“Being a COVID year this year, we're trying not to have any main (large)-scale events, being very aware of our resources and things like that,” Zavallo said. “So, that's where instead of creating our own unique event, we're kind of promoting events that (are) already taking place in the community, so students can take advantage of that.”

Avoiding large gatherings is not the only change brought on by COVID-19, Zavallo said. UCF’s Collegiate Recovery Community took a hit due to the pandemic; it lost its gathering space in Central Florida Research Park since the lease ended amid the pandemic, Zavallo said. On top of that, the registered student organization SoberKnights went on a hiatus, Zavallo said, as key club members graduated while classes transitioned online.

SHS Marketing Assistant Ryan Calderon said he used to work at that same CRC location and said losing the space negatively impacted the recovery community at UCF. Zoom meetings were offered to accommodate this change, but Calderon said he felt like it was not quite the same.

“People were at home and lost the general face-to-face interaction when it’s so much easier to get help face-to-face," Calderon said. "I feel like it was harder for people who are in recovery to just be at home and not around other people.” 

UCF’s recovery community has still not been able to reclaim its CRC space or spend the money to rent a new one. By doing events such as "Spill the Tea on Recovery" and engaging in NRM festivities, Calderon said he wants students to know the recovery community at UCF is still there.

Alli Maiorano, SHS marketing communications assistant, said that in order to get another CRC space, SHS must show the need for one to justify the expenditure.

“For us, showing the need for a space, it’s a little bit more abstract than saying we need more pencils or office supplies,” Maiorano said. “It’s more people communicating their need, which is also intrinsically difficult for some people to come out and say, ‘I need this; I’m in recovery.’” 

In the meantime, Maiorano said the recovery community will do its best to make use of the resources it currently has.

“For the resources we don’t have now, we always try our best to accommodate students." Maiorano said. "So, for example, if a student comes to us and says, ‘We really need this,’ we might refer them to a meeting with Health Services if they need it. That’s why it’s really important to network with different community resources and try to get them the most help that they can get.”

As for students present at the event, sophomore biology major Katrina Zakala said she was moved by the support, due to having family members impacted by addiction.

“I have family issues related to recovery, so I think it’s super important and it’s a good cause,” Zakala said. “They're already struggling with so much of their lives, and I feel like they shouldn’t have to stress so much, so they can be led to a better recovery.”

SHS will continue to celebrate NRM throughout September, ending the festivities with a “Night with Nic,” a free movie screening and discussion with American writer Nic Sheff, at Waterford Lakes Town Center Sept. 30. For Zavallo, the success of recovery efforts like NRM depend upon UCF coming together as a community.

“It’s that culture of care that UCF definitely puts in place, and Knights taking care of each other,” Zavallo said. “So, just by having these types of events where these types of messages are visible (and) these statistics are visible, the hope is that it eventually trickles down to those that need it.”

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