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JCC Club Offers Students Impacted By Addiction A Safe Space

Jennifer Howe, left, and Lauren Schuster, are pictured at SUNY Jamestown Community College. Howe, an instructor in human services and addictions counseling, and Schuster, a student studying human services, have started a club to help students impacted by chemical dependency. P-J photo by Eric Tichy

For Lauren Schuster, the decision to start a club at SUNY Jamestown Community College to help students impacted by chemical dependency came from personal experience.

“I had to go through a lot of painful years in active addiction to get where I am today,” said Schuster, a JCC student studying human services. “The one thing that I know that’s helped me, and is essential for recovery in my opinion, is support from other people.”

It’s identifying proper support systems and reducing the stigma associated with addiction that Schuster hopes to promote with the club — Students Affected by Chemical Dependency. The first meeting was held Feb. 8 and included Jennifer Howe, an instructor of human services and addictions counseling. Howe just recently returned to Jamestown and is new to the faculty at JCC.

When she first moved away 25 years ago, her knowledge of drugs and its impact on individuals and families was rather limited. That changed, though, when she moved to Las Vegas where “drugs were already an epidemic.”

“I had a crash course in addictions, and coming back to Jamestown over the years I see it becoming more prevalent,” she continued. “My job here, I think, is to come and help. At JCC, I think that my job is to help new counselors learn what I’ve learned over the past 18 years — helping to develop new counselors to help the problem.”

Howe hopes the new club can provide resources to students, especially those currently struggling with chemical dependency.

“Every road to recovery is different for everybody,” she told The Post-Journal. “Everybody walks their different path to how they navigate this, and we are in support of whatever that may be.”

While taking classes on addiction, Schuster came up with the idea of bringing students together. Often younger and under stress of being in school, she figures there are students on campus either in recovery from addiction or have family members who are at present.

“Really, it is for any student that is affected by addiction in any capacity,” said Schuster, who was born in Buffalo and has lived in Jamestown for the past few years. “The goal is to help students who are in active recovery or are currently struggling, or are affected by friends or family struggling.”

Tracking substance abuse among college students, be it alcohol or hard drugs, can be difficult. The issue itself is more evident in the city, which has seen an increase in drug overdoses due in large part to fentanyl.

JCC offers a handful of degrees and certificates that touch on addiction. Schuster was in such a class when she thought about bringing students together.

Catherine Iannello, a professor within the Human Services Department, said the college is undertaking a “number of initiatives” that focus on student health and wellness on campus. She also referenced the college’s addictions counseling program.

According to the course catalog, students in the program “will learn about the nature and history of addiction and chemical dependency, and skills needed for intake assessment, treatment planning, case management, and counseling.”

As noted in her college bio, Iannello has worked in all levels of social work practice, “from individual and family interventions to community groups and state-level policy initiatives.”

Iannello acknowledged that addiction is a lifelong disease.

“I think it’s also a great opportunity for people to recognize that just because you are in recovery doesn’t mean you can’t go on to lead a successful life,” she said.

Meanwhile, Howe and Schuster are looking to draw interested students to the new club. Both hope to incorporate a mix of peer-to-peer discussion, education and community outreach into future gatherings.

With knowledge of naloxone, Howe plans to train club members to use the opioid-overdose antidote on individuals experiencing a drug overdose.

Schuster hopes her experience with addiction and willingness to discuss it openly may inspire other students to come forward.

“Jamestown is definitely a small town hit with a huge epidemic,” she said, later adding, “I feel like a lot of these students that come on campus are young and they’re either experimenting or are starting to, and they don’t realize that just using one time could affect their life.”

Students Affected by Chemical Dependency meets each Thursday from 12:30-1:15 p.m. on the second floor of Hultquist Library, room HULT 245.

“The support aspect is what helped me to realize my worth and led me on a path to better my life,” Schuster said. “Without a support system, I don’t know that I would be where I am today, honestly.”

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