Meghan White opened with a welcome to 22 alumni in attendance, referencing them as an alumni army. We then went around the room to introduce ourselves, stating our name, when we were at CeDAR and our reason for participating in the open house. Sobriety dates ranged from 10 years to 90 days and everywhere in between. The stated motivations to attend the open-house included wanting to further involvement, meeting other alumni, volunteer/service-work opportunities, give back to CeDAR, work with newly discharged alumni, opportunities to find sponsees/sponsors.
Meghan then introduced herself and provided a historical context of alumni services throughout CeDAR’s 12 years of operation. She discussed the emergence of the coaching department a few years ago. Around that time there was also a decline in other alumni services. CeDAR leadership realized this to be an area of improvement and thus created a hybrid role of alumni/volunteer coordinator. Meghan has been fully integrated into this role for five months. Now that she has the day-to-day function of her role down, it is time to start building an alumni program. She felt it wasn’t fair to enter the construction phase by herself and without the insight of the alumni, which is why she organized an open-house. CeDAR has many types of alumni: seniors, retirees, professionals, stay-at-home parents, young people, gay & straight, women & men. All of these individuals are going to want something different out of a program so it is important we hear from all cross-sections.
She then provided a skeletal structure for her vision of the program, saying she would like to base it on the wellness wheel of recovery. Ideally, we would plan events, retreats, lecture, and workshops to align with each of the 10 dimensions. She would like to increase alumni involvement in CeDAR’s programming. She wants to get alumni in front of patients through storytelling, mentorship, breaking bread, workshops etc. A secondary goal is to create regional alumni chapter, connecting alumni throughout the state and outside of the state. She, likewise, wants to provide alumni with information, news, happenings, and ways to get involved on an alumni portal accessed through CeDAR’s website. The discussion was then opened up to field questions and explore ideas.
We first talked about restructuring the alumni support group in an effort to increase attendance by alumni who are in the latter stages of recovery. We would like to change the seating to form a “U” so people can better hear and there is a more face-to-face connection. Also reduces the intimidation for whoever is chairing. We would like for the meeting to be more interactive. At least once a month, we would like to hear about people’s experience through storytelling or Ted-esque talks. Also discussed was incorporating a guided meditation or spiritually-focused meeting.
Next item for discussion was creating a mentorship program for newly discharged alumni to be connected with alumni of certain suggested sobriety length. We talked about forming a “CeDAR phone tree” which would connect those newly discharging with alumni of a lengthier sobriety time in an effort for temporary sponsorship, sober support etc. It was debated whether this list should be distributed, uploaded to the portal or given upon request. One alumni stated, providing discharging patients with a “CeDAR map” that would help them navigate early recovery. Another alumnus suggested on-going communication with alumni, offering encouragement through a “We’re thinking about you. –CeDAR” message.
Switching gears from how alumni can help patients to how CeDAR can help alumni. The need for ongoing connection was of high importance to many. The quote, “The opposite of addiction is not recovery, it is connection,” was shared. We will provide a safe place for alumni to further their connection, growth, knowledge, and recovery through events, workshops, retreats, lectures etc. Many alumni expressed interest in wanting to do community service work. Volunteering at the Denver children’s home was suggested. Also expressed was the idea to reach out to local middle and high schools to see if alumni can come speak to students. Both annual volunteering events and recurring volunteers were of interest to folks. An idea from one alumnus was to hold a gala to better increase relations with the community and provide addiction education. Another idea was to organize a 5k—running for recovery.
“These are all great ideas, but how are we going to actually do this,” asked one alumni. Meghan responded by saying she understood his questions. Before we can jump into any of these ideas, our program must first have structure and substance. It must be intentional so that is sustainable. We must develop an alumni handbook, alumni conduct. A mission, vision, and values. Meghan suggested the implementation of an alumni steering committee, which was met with great response. The committee would represent all cross-sections of CeDAR’s alumni base and together, we would form the structure of our program.
Meghan closed the meetings asking of the alumni to stir excitement within their own alumni circles. She will be sending out notes of the open-house to those who were unable to attend and likewise will be sending out a survey so we can get input from alumni who weren’t in attendance. She will be doing some research into forming an alumni steering committee and will be planning a kick-off meeting.