In a quiet room, a fledgling group gives students a second chance
Between moments of silence, the students in room 1010 can’t help but squirm and fidget. They avoid eye contact with each other, staring down at their smart phones instead. But then the introductions are made and it’s time to share their recovery experience. Suddenly, they can’t stop talking. Suddenly, they all have a story to tell about their past week of keeping sober or clean.
Welcome to UNLV’s chapter of HYPER, Helping Young People Experience Recovery.
The student organization was created two years ago after its president Michael Fildes and vice-president Omid Mahban grew weary of seeing too many of their friends fall to alcohol and drug addiction.
They were tired of seeing too many of their friends fall to drug and alcohol addiction and wanted to create a place free of any temptation or “triggers” for UNLV students. They knew that many youths recovering from addiction who attended peer group sessions hosted by local organizations were unmoved by the discussions at the meetings. The services were too centered around adults.
In October 2011, the Foundation for Recovery, a Nevada-registered non-profit organization dedicated to helping individuals recover from substance abuse, founded a program to fit the needs of young Nevadans recovering from addiction. They called it HYPER, Helping Young People Experience Recovery.
The next year, Fildes and Mahban collaborated with the University of Nevada, Reno, the Foundation for Recovery and The Stacie Mathewson Foundation to create an offshoot of HYPER at UNLV to help students on campus.
They began holding weekly meetings, but no one came. It was frustrating because they knew there were students on campus who needed help.
“Back then, we didn’t have a lot support,” Fildes said.
Slowly that changed as the duo attracted the attention of administrators in the Student Wellness department. Through word-of-mouth and marketing help from HYPER’s advisor Starr Wharton, the assistant director of wellness promotion, a small group of students began to attend the organization’s meetings regularly.
Today, HYPER has about 10 members, who share stories about how they’ve managed to stay sober or clean every week.
“[HYPER is] a safe place, really, for them to go where they know there’s not going to be any types of triggers or anything like that,” Fildes said. “It’s that safe environment.”
Now that they have a following, Fildes and Mahban have a new goal: finding a permanent office space for HYPER.
Discussions at the meetings and conversations with peers have served as proof to them that there is a host of students who could benefit from joining the student organization.
Based on national estimates found in studies on collegiate recovery, it is approximated that on campus about 8,900 students use a substance to a point where it interferes with their ability to function and about 1,700 students depend on a substance to get by everyday. Those same estimates show only 421 UNLV students are seeking help.
There were about 28,000 students attending UNLV last fall.
“[Addiction is] such a big issue, especially on a university campus where there’s drug use and alcohol use all the time,” Mahban said.
Fildes and Mahban worry that students who are seeking help may not always be able to attend the meetings held at 11:45 a.m. on Wednesdays. They believe if HYPER had an office, more students recovering from addiction who may need assistance or simply need someone to talk to without the fear of being judged would not hesitate to take that step.
“Dedicated space is one of the top three critical components of successful collegiate recovery programs,” Wharton said in an email.
Fildes said during many instances, there’s a small window when an individual is ready to accept that they need help getting over their addiction.
“What if it’s that point in someone’s life where they were willing to ask for help and they couldn’t find that space?” he said. “They can go straight [to the office] and we can receive them at that point when they’re ready to make an improvement.”
But important as space may be for HYPER’s cause, UNLV doesn’t have the resources they seek. The university already struggles with finding rooms for classes. Finding space for a student organization is just not on the top of the list.
“The fact is it’s very difficult to get space on this campus,” said Jamie Davidson, the associate vice president for student wellness. “We have kind of a shortage.”
In the meantime, Davidson and Wharton have offered the Rebel Wellness Zone located on the second floor of the Student Recreation and Wellness Center as a working space for Fildes and Mahban and a place for all students in recovery to visit during drop-in hours.
“My job is to support them with the resources that I have,” Davidson said. “While I can’t give them space, I can certainly let them use space that we have and try and support their work in any way that we can.”
Though having an office may not be a possibility at the moment, Fildes is certain HYPER is accomplishing the change he and Mahban set out to make.
“We can make the world a better place,” he said. “We don’t have to live in the world the way that people left it yesterday.”
After the meetings are finished, Mahban goes to work. The students rise from their chairs, chatting and praising each other on their week’s progress while they put their backpacks on. A few of them hover around the door waiting for other members so they can all leave together.
Mahban approaches a newcomer to HYPER and shakes his hand.
“Hi, I’m Omid,” he says. “Congratulations, man. It’s nice to meet you.”
If you or someone you know is interested in joining UNLV’s HYPER program, contact (702) 280-6093 or [email protected].