Rolling Recovery: Students Bring Mobile Coffee Cart to Campus

coffee beans

Rolling Recovery: Students Bring Mobile Coffee Cart to Campus

Rolling Recovery

Students Bring Mobile Coffee Cart to Campus

By Kristen Bailey | Photos by Allison Carter November 12, 2018

As the weather cools off and the semester heats up, there will soon be a new way on campus to get a cup of coffee.

Free coffee is arriving on three wheels courtesy of Georgia Tech’s Collegiate Recovery Program (CRP).

coffee bike

(L-R): Milosz Rachel, Mark Saleh, Collin Moore, Henry Mills, and Kristy Cho are a few of the students who helped build the new coffee bike.

For the 21 students in the program, college life looks a little different than it does for most of their peers. The CRP is a safe haven for students, welcoming those in recovery from substance use disorders.

Most students have struggled with alcohol or other drugs, but the recovery program welcomes those in recovery from any addictive behaviors who are willing to commit to a sober lifestyle.

“Regardless of your addiction, the feelings associated with it are the same,” said Christina Owens, coordinator of the program, which is a service of the Counseling Center. “Often people will substitute one addiction for another — they may get sober, but move on to something else.”

The coffee bike will be run (or pedaled, rather) by students from the CRP and equipped with a freshly ground pourover coffee brewing system powered by a solar panel. The bike will offer free coffee to anyone willing to have a conversation about recovery while their coffee brews, which usually takes around three minutes.

“We hope the bike will cultivate conversations among students, raising awareness of mental illnesses and the available campus resources for those who may be struggling,” said Henry Mills, a mechanical engineering major who helped bring the project to fruition over the past year, along with several other students. The idea came from a professor and artist from Virginia Commonwealth University, John Fryer, who started the concept on his own campus.

Students in the CRP built the coffee cart themselves, working in the Invention Studio and off campus over the past year. They ordered the bike base online, designed the cart, made numerous trips to The Home Depot, constructed wood frames, installed solar panels, connected and configured an electric circuit, and woodburned logos and wording onto the cart. The cart is equipped with a set of custom carabiner coffee mugs, engraved by the students. Last spring, the project proposal earned the Matter of Degree award, which honors efforts on campus to reduce high-risk drinking.

Another step in the process — getting the right brew.

“We worked with Blue Donkey to find the exact roast that matched our collective taste buds,” Mills said. Together, they developed a special Recovery Roast.

setting up the coffee bike

Students set up the cart for operation. The top of the coffee cart unfolds to create a counter area for serving.

setting up the coffee bike

Henry Mills removes supplies from the storage area of the cart, which can hold dozens of mugs, a coffee grinder, pourover system, coffee beans, and more.

Recovery at Tech

Based on national statistics, Georgia Tech likely has around 350 students in recovery or seeking recovery. CRP participants learned about the program in a variety of ways — through word of mouth, while seeking out resources, or by attending on-campus recovery meetings. Students must apply to the program, and the application requirements include a letter of recommendation and 90 days of continuous sobriety from all substances.

The required programming for participants is a weekly recovery seminar. Owens leads each session, and it offers an opportunity for students to check in with her, and with each other, and to discuss such topics as relapse prevention, time management, or nutrition.

“The recovery seminar was always the part of the week I looked forward to the most,” said one student, who chose to remain anonymous. “It’s a relaxed and welcoming environment full of people excited to support and connect with others in recovery, whoever they may be and regardless of their background or reason for being there.”

Beyond the seminar, Owens meets individually with each participant on a regular basis, usually weekly at first. She helps them to prioritize recovery among the other competing demands on their time, while helping them feel both accountable and supported.

Though the topic of addiction can be heavy, much of the CRP programming is not. Owens says that community is what students value the most about the program. For many people, being in recovery means having to find new hobbies, hangouts, and especially friendships. Some also become estranged from family. Owens noted how isolating this process can be for students, especially in the beginning.

“In addition to the awesome counselors who run the CRP, the other students in recovery became some of my closest friends at Georgia Tech, always eager to help and support each other,” said a student.

This year, nine new students joined the program. Some of the CRP’s social outings include rock climbing, group lunches, sporting events, overnight camping trips, and travel to national recovery conferences.

“One of the things that impresses me the most about the students is how welcoming they are,” Owens said. She’s watched the program grow from just two students in 2015 to the group of 21 it is today.

For some, the fallout from addiction and recovery means taking a leave of absence from school. Returning to campus can elicit a range of emotions and feel overwhelming or traumatic. The CRP is equipped to offer solutions.

“This is a safe place to talk about things with people who are going to get it — they know what you’re going through,” Owens said.

Many universities across the country offer similar recovery programs and support, and they’re proving their worth in the lives of recovering students. Nationally, most people with addiction receive their first recovery treatment at age 31. For students with access to a recovery program, the average age is 21. Even accounting for relapse, the program can enable those with addiction to start a sober life a full decade earlier.

If you know someone struggling with an addiction, or in recovery, Owens says that educating yourself about substance use disorders can be the best first step to being supportive.

“A lot of people think it’s a conscious choice,” Owens said. “In reality, we know that substance use disorders are chronic medical conditions that require specialized treatment, and that recovery is a lifelong process.”

If someone opens up about an addiction, embrace that and let them share their story.

How to Help

Substance use disorder manifests in different ways for different people. Some may maintain high grades or keep up responsibilities while struggling in other ways. For some high-achieving students, it can be hard to identify even in themselves.

A few warning signs to look for:

  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns.
  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain.
  • Skipping class, declining grades, or getting in trouble at school.
  • Sudden changes in relationships, friends, favorite hangouts, or hobbies.
  • Unexplained or confusing change in personality and/or attitude.
  • Periods of unusual hyperactivity or agitation.
  • Demanding more privacy — such as locking doors or avoiding eye contact.
  • Impaired coordination, injuries/accidents/bruises that they won’t or can’t tell you about (they don’t know how they got hurt).