The apartment-style building on 23rd and Vine doesn’t look special. The faded, dusty exterior of its four visible stories doesn’t beg for attention. Nor do the empty bike rack, the bare windows or the sign that bears its name: Husker Hall.
But on Monday nights at 8 p.m., there’s chocolate and espresso. The good chocolate, Lindt truffles. There are comfy couches, conversation and camaraderie. For three weeks, Husker Hall has been a refuge for Alcoholics Anonymous, students in recovery from drug and alcohol addictions.
Next fall, some of those students could be living in the unassuming Husker Hall, which was recently acquired by UNL’s new Collegiate Recovery Community as a residence hall specifically for students in recovery. According to Connie Boehm, director of Big Red Resilience and Wellbeing, the CRC is “a place where students in recovery can get together, have support and build a community.”
Boehm is working hard to gather donors, raise awareness for the CRC, recruit students to participate in its sober activities and live in Husker Hall next year. She is assisted by professors, administrators, staff and other University personnel who are helping to build a recovery community for students and remove the stigma that surrounds recovery.
“If we can pull these students together, it will really help them enhance their experience here on our campus,” Boehm said.
Jon Haag, a first-year engineering major, is one of those students. He started drinking alcohol when he was 14 years old. What began with sneaking booze from his big brother’s parties quickly turned into stealing it from liquor stores, grocery stores and wherever else Haag could find it. He also “got into drugs,” but alcohol was his favorite because it was always available.
Haag had a scholarship to attend UNL when he was 18, but he said he “drank his way out of college” after one year. He chose alcohol and drugs over going to class. He didn’t take tests. Sometimes, he said he just felt too ashamed to show up late to class, “smelling like booze.”
Friends told him he had a problem, but Haag didn’t make a change until he was 19 and he heard it from his mom. Haag knew it was serious then.
He started living in an Oxford House, a self-run, self-supported recovery system that taught him the value of service and giving back. He started attending AA meetings and building a relationship with his sponsor. It took him about two years to recover.
Today, Haag is 25. He’s making the most of his second shot at being a college student. He’s working as a mental health tech at Touchstone Lincoln, a residential addiction recovery center on 27th and O Streets. He’s using his story to help other students find healing and sobriety in college.
Haag works with Boehm to continue developing the CRC and reach students who might need it, as well as their friends and family members who want to help.
“The more people know about the CRC, the more likely they might be to help send them to us,” Haag said.
Haag said the biggest red flag to watch for is when the person says they want to stop drinking or using, but they don’t. They can’t.
UNL psychologist Brigham Scott specializes in drug and alcohol counseling. He said many people assume that drinking and drug use are the norms in college. In reality, 20 to 25 percent of college students at UNL have not had a drink in the last year.
He sees the CRC and Husker Hall residence opportunity as a great place for students to work on recovery and stay sober in college.
“There is a place for people whether you’re in recovery or you don’t do it yourself, where you can come and live your lifestyle and still have a great college experience,” Scott said. “You are not alone.”