When they started working to establish a substance abuse outpatient center at Miami, Sherrie Kleinholz and Janae Arno were shocked at how much the process dragged.

There was the physical set-up, of course, as they needed to transform the second floor of the Interfaith Center into a combined study hangout and clinical office. But, on top of that, there were medical record systems that needed to be launched, programming that had to be organized, staff to be hired and state regulations to navigate.

It took several months before they were able to start operating and serving the needs of Miami students struggling with drug and alcohol abuse.

Now entering its sixth month in Oxford, Miami’s chapter of the Haven at College is running like a well-oiled machine. It is even being used as a model to help train new chapters around the country, such as the recently announced outpatient center and recovery housing opening at the University of Maryland.

Arno, the student care manager at the Haven, points to the center’s flexibility and openness as the root of its success. Free from the rigid rules and schedules of more traditional recovery routes, the Haven is able to attend directly to the needs of its clients.

“We are very accommodating, and students appreciate that because they’re all so time-constrained,” Arno said.

The Haven is a national organization aimed at creating a safe and supportive recovery community for college students. It currently operates at five universities and was approached by Miami a year and a half ago after the treatment and recovery work group of Miami’s Alcohol Coordinating Committee determined the university needed to offer better recovery services on campus.

Arno and Kleinholz spent the majority of last semester simply getting established on campus, and after all of their systems were in place, they only managed to attract two full-time clients. Now that they’re up and running, they’ve expanded their clientele to eight — and that’s not including the four students referred to them by OESCR, or by Student Counseling Services, for whom they’ve begun offering basic substance abuse screenings.

Additionally, they’ve expanded their physical space, adding a group therapy room, a yoga and meditation room and another counseling office. They have also hired another part-time therapist and started offering open educational classes for people who don’t necessarily need treatment but could benefit from examining their relationship with substances.

While Haven clients have access to counseling and other clinical services, Kleinholz, who serves as the clinical director, said that most of their positive feedback comes in response to their welcoming atmosphere. You don’t have to identify as an addict to utilize the Haven. Anyone is invited to come hang out and study in the sober environment.

It’s typical for new faces to approach hesitantly, leery of being bombarded with doctors in white lab coats giving them pamphlets and telling them they need treatment. At the Haven, they’re met with a non-judgmental community that will meet their needs only if they decide on their own that they want help. The Haven will not release the identity of any of its clients — not even to parents, professors or law enforcement — unless they receive written permission to do so.

“We’re very medical and rule-driven, but that’s all behind the scenes,” Kleinholz said. “In front we’re like, ‘Hey, have a coffee.’”

The Haven currently employs six student staff members, whose responsibilities range from campus outreach to maintaining the office to designing programs and field trips. Following suggestions and requests from current clients, the staff is working to plan group outings such as a hiking trip and a bowling night. They want the Haven to be more than just a clinic; they want it to be a community.

Much of the Haven’s expansion is aimed at meeting the needs of its clients. Kleinholz and Arno are in the process of extending the location’s hours on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, typical party nights during which students often struggle to find sober activities. They also are planning a cookout for Green Beer Day. Set to be held on the front lawn of the Interfaith Center at 11 a.m. on March 15, the event will offer free BBQ and be open to the public.

Kleinholz’s biggest concern moving forward is the center’s lack of recognition at Miami. When visiting a class recently, she asked who was aware of the Haven’s existence on campus. Three of 30 students raised their hands.

“The more we get the word out, the more comfortable people seem to become.” she said. “A lot of our goals right now are about marketing, letting people know we’re here.”

Looking to the future, Kleinholz and Arno expect to continue expanding. They hope to upgrade to a bigger location within a year and are looking to hire another full-time mental health therapist. They also are working with former Miami staff psychiatrist Dr. Josh Hersh to establish a telemedicine service for students who require additional psychiatric services.

The Haven will also be opening sober housing next semester. Starting in August, all students will have the option to live at the Haven’s residential housing at the Miami Preserve. It will be large enough to accommodate seven residents and one staff member, and first-years and sophomores who wish to live there will be granted an off-campus waiver from the university.

Whether students require a full-time sober living community, or simply a place to hang out on a busy Friday night, the Haven is focused on providing them with the support they need.

“We take a tunnel, so to speak, that’s black,” Kleinholz said. “They see one door, and that’s the only door they see. We try to shine a light and go, ‘What about this door or this door? And if you take this door, what are the costs and what are the benefits?’ That’s what we try to tell people.”

shumandb@miamioh.edu

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