Participants, Graduates of Recovery Court Program May Apply
The scholarship and partnership with the College of Southern Maryland were Mike West's idea.
The Mechanicsville resident knew firsthand that a person recovering from substance abuse needs resources. They need mentors and groups of friends who are also committed to sobriety. They need a job, and they need a chance to further their education. They just need a little support as they make big changes in their lives.
“You've got to stay occupied,” West said. “You get absorbed by your surroundings.”
West, a recovering alcoholic, is a graduate of the St. Mary's County Adult Substance Abuse Recovery Court (SARC) program. As an alternative to incarceration, SARC provides intensive oversight and counseling to those who have been convicted of a substance-related crime such as a DUI or drug possession. SARC also helps the participant refocus on educational, financial and career goals.
After graduating from SARC in 2014, West became an advocate for those coming after him. He created an alumni group for SARC graduates to serve as a support group, and he suggested that the program provide follow-on support through help with college classes, career training and GED preparation.
The College of Southern Maryland was a natural partner to serve as this resource. Representatives from CSM and SARC worked together to create a SARC scholarship fund, which was announced at the most recent SARC graduation on February 28.
CSM Vice President Tracy Harris, dean of CSM's Leonardtown Campus, and Vice President of Advancement Michelle Goodwin spoke at the event. “It can really have a positive impact on these graduates and their families to be able to pay for career training or degree courses, and that's what this scholarship is here for,” Goodwin said.
“We really want you to take advantage of this great opportunity to keep learning and increase your earning potential,” she said to the new graduates.
The scholarship provides financial assistance to SARC graduates or those currently in the program in good standing. The funds can be used by SARC participants for tuition, fees, books, GED expenses and other related supplies to attend CSM in an academic program or career training program.
“This is the next logical step,” said Pete Cucinotta, SARC program director. Having scholarships available is another important resource to assist those trying to make a change for the better.
West got the idea for a scholarship when he was going through SARC.
He obtained his GED while in the program and then took several computer-aided design courses at CSM. He said that stepping on to the college campus was intimidating to him. He'd been an alcoholic since he was 15 and had dropped out of school in eighth grade. West realized that it would help him and others like him to have some support on campus. “Why don't we get some kind of scholarship and get a contact person to walk participants through it?” he said.
Taking those CSM courses built up West's resume, but they also helped with his recovery. “It helped me to stay sober,” West said. “It gave me something to focus on.”
Lindsay Wolf of Lexington Park, one of the SARC graduates at the February 28 event, is already a CSM student. She expressed interest in the new scholarship. “Most definitely,” Wolf said about applying. “It would just be a good opportunity. It could just open so many doors for a new future.”
SARC started in St. Mary's County in 2009 as a way to work with offenders whose behavior was driven by drug and alcohol abuse. The program was developed by Circuit Court Administrative Judge Karen H. Abrams and Cucinotta. The program is modeled after more than 2,000 drug courts operating nationwide, including 40 in Maryland. Partners in the program include the Circuit Court of St. Mary's County, the St. Mary's County Department of Parole and Probation, St. Mary's Public Defender, St. Mary's County Sheriff, St. Mary's County State's Attorney and Jude House, Inc. Since its inception, 79 graduates have completed the St. Mary's program.
Credit is also due to SARC's Advisory Board, which consists of members of the St. Mary's County business and government community who have helped guide the programs with advice and ideas and have also spearheaded a fundraising campaign. That campaign helped to raise the money which will be utilized to fund the scholarships.