USM in Portland ‘ROCCs’ new community center

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PORTLAND —  Recovery is getting a workout above the gym at the University of Southern Maine Sullivan Complex.

The opening of the new Recovery Oriented Community Center was celebrated Oct. 26, with comments from U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and USM President Glenn Cummings. Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck and Scarborough Police Chief Rob Moulton also attended.

USM Substance Abuse Clinical Services Coordinator Diane Geyer said she expects ROCC to become a part of the campus fabric.

“This is important because it offers students in recovery a space to achieve,” Geyer said during an open house that followed the ceremony.

The center also offers mental health services in a series of smaller offices, a sitting room, and a room lined with cycles used for spinning. Geyer said students and anyone involved in campus life is welcome to be part of the activities.

She estimated there are 170 such centers on campuses around the country, adding it is only the first step for USM to better support people in recovery or who need mental health services. Recovery dorms will be next, first in Portland, then perhaps on the Gorham campus.

Peer to peer support, counseling and guidance are critical to the center, Geyer said. Normal hours are 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Friday, but support groups looking to meet later will not find the doors closing on them.

A Students and Recovery group, a Mindfulness/Meditation group, Young People in Recovery and Queer Recovery group are among those now holding weekly meetings at the ROCC.

ROCC has been open for about a month, and student volunteer Micaela Manganello said she has seen a strong response as she greets visitors.

“I don’t ask for any specific reason why (people) are here,” she said. “I want to make them feel supported.”

Manganello is not personally in recovery, but losing a cousin to a heroin overdose made her want to help others.

“It means everything to me,” she said. “I really want to help in some sense.”

Creating ROCC was a goal for Andrew Kiezulas, who leads the local Youth in Recovery chapter and has been a forceful, cheerful advocate for people in recovery beyond the USM campus.

“The ROCC at USM is an on-campus home for hope and stability,” Kiezulas said Monday. “No longer will students be forced to choose between recovery and education. They can now do both in the same place.”

Kiezulas, a chemistry major who was addicted to heroin and has been actively recovering for more than four years, is among a group of people who inspire Geyer by their openness in discussing substance use and the power of recovery.

“Why should there be any shame stepping forward? We are all human beings,” Geyer said. “They are inspirational, hopeful, have courage and are the leaders of tomorrow.”

University of Maine Law School student Bryn Gallagher has been active in her recovery from alcohol use for more than three years. Like her boyfriend, Kiezulas, she shares her experience in Young People in Recovery.

“My use looked like many other students’,” she said. “It was nothing that would set a professor or parent off kilter.”

Her recovery began during a semester abroad in Barcelona, and her return to the USM campus was complicated as she wondered about relationships changing because she was in recovery. Had ROCC existed then, she said it would have been important.

“If I had gotten past the stigma and shame, it would have meant a fundamental shift in the way I showed up to school,” Gallagher said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

USM student and Young People in Recovery leader Andrew Kiezulas, left, and Scarborough Police Chief Rob Moulton share a laugh at the Recovery Oriented Community Center grand opening on Oct. 26 in Portland.

University of Maine Law School student Bryn Gallagher celebrates the opening of the Recovery Oriented Community Center at USM in Portland with Moose on Oct. 26. Gallagher has been active in recovery for 3 1/2 years.

USM official Diane Geyer and student Andrew Kiezulas celebrate the Oct. 26 grand opening of the Recovery Oriented Community Center on the Portland campus.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.