Mike F. and Brian B. are like many typical college students. They’ve each been taking 15 credits at Colorado Mountain College, working hard to earn good grades, and balancing their studies with outdoor and social activities.
However, this is the second round of college for both students. Their experience the first time around was much different; their education was cut short by substance abuse.
“I needed to get help first and then go back to college,” Mike F. said.
The students are two of the four pioneers in a pilot program called Jaywalker U, directed toward men who have completed Jaywalker Lodge’s 12-step drug and alcohol treatment program and who want to pursue a college education while continuing to receive support and guidance in their new life of sobriety.
Since Jaywalker Lodge’s start in 2005, founder Bobby Ferguson realized many of the program’s successful graduates were permanently integrating into the Roaring Fork Valley and attending classes at Colorado Mountain College.
“Our guys were already finding their way to CMC,” said Mark McGuiness, director of marketing and new ventures at Jaywalker Lodge. “We wanted to make that path easier.”
Team, residence hall provide atmosphere of support
After initial discussions between CMC and Jaywalker Lodge, Craig Farnum, a counselor at the college’s Lappala Center in Carbondale, has been instrumental in tying together the two establishments. He is also a starting point for the Jaywalker students as they transition back into college, by helping them set class schedules and learn about degree requirements.
“Jaywalker U is an opportunity for students to re-experience college over again,” Farnum said. “And because they have the support from Jaywalker, the likelihood of succeeding is much greater.”
In November 2012, the Jaywalker Lodge finished a three-level, 6,000-square-foot residence hall designed specifically for students enrolled in Jaywalker U. The building includes an integrated student center where students can study and listen to guest speakers, and also includes staff offices, student lounges, two full kitchens and rooms for 11 students.
The residence hall is located off of Main Street in Carbondale and allows for the students to either walk to classes at the Lappala Center or drive to the college’s Spring Valley campus, six miles away.
Janet DeMars, director of Jaywalker U, helps the students to determine their interests and educational path. After the students decide on a degree, DeMars and other Jaywalker staff members, including live-in education coaches and residential assistants, work on study schedules and plan Jaywalker activities.
“Our goals for the program are to provide support for all students academically so they are taking classes that apply to their major, to provide a good living environment and to have a safe place for sobriety,” DeMars said.
And DeMars’ contribution extends beyond working with Jaywalker U students. She is teaching a Mental Health First Aid class, which contains a component on addiction and alcohol. The classes are open to CMC students and the community.
Students motivated to learn, succeed
This time – whether it’s the second, third or fourth time back in school – the Jaywalker U students are committed not only to finishing their degrees but to a life in sobriety. They have an average GPA of 3.4, and all are on track to finish either their associate or bachelor’s degrees.
Denise Moss, a CMC instructor of English Composition, said she loves having the Jaywalker students in class. “They have a lot of life under their belts. They’re able to contribute substantially to the class and their writing is better because of it,” she said. “This program has really built their self-confidence to know they can go back to school and accomplish their goals.”
“We want to continue to open the door of education for men now that they’re sober and to show that the face of recovery can be a normal college student,” DeMars said.
For Mike F., his second chance at education has given him clarity on what he wants to do. He has found he has a passion for sustainability and plans to finish his Bachelor of Arts in sustainability studies at CMC. He has volunteered with the Roaring Fork Conservancy and is currently working on a project to repair vegetation at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies’ Rock Bottom Ranch.
“I’m trying to give back to the community and be a productive member of the community,” he said. “CMC is a perfect fit for this.”