Gauchos for Recovery — a UC Santa Barbara peer-driven program that supports students in or seeking recovery from addictive behaviors and substance use disorders — commemorated its 10-year anniversary since its founding on April 29.
Gauchos for Recovery (GFR) put on its annual art and music festival Generation Recovery in Anisq’Oyo’ Park this year in celebration of a decade as an organization. The event featured booths from a variety of art vendors and local organizations, as well as live music from student bands.
GFR aims to build a supportive community of peers through offering recovery-oriented meetings, events and professional support. They recently secured recovery-supportive housing for the 2023-24 academic year, which will house four to five UCSB students in one unit at the university-owned Santa Ynez Apartments.
“We’ve built a thriving community for students in recovery to achieve their goals and make lasting memories,” GFR Recovery Program Manager Angie Bryan said.
Bryan said the program pioneered a student-run model at college campuses and expanded its efforts in the last decade to include harm reduction meetings and the distribution of overdose prevention kits.
“In 2018, we started incorporating harm reduction efforts into our program and were one of the first colleges in the country to give out naloxone and fentanyl test strips to students,” Bryan said. “We were also the first to use a peer model, allowing students to access harm reduction supplies anonymously and from other students.”
The program regularly hosts four weekly meetings: “Rainbow Recovery” serving the LGBTQIA+ community and allies, a discussion centered around the concept of 12-step recovery, a recovery mediation for students at all UC campuses and “Ready to Make a Change? Harm Reduction Meeting” — a staff-led meeting for those interested in changing their substance use, even if abstinence is not the goal.
Their recovery-supportive housing community is designed for students “who are established in their recovery and want to live in a safe, supportive environment with other like-minded students,” the website read. Under their housing contract, residents commit to a substance-free lifestyle and agree to actively participate in GFR.
“We are one of the very few universities in America that has a harm reduction facility on campus — we’re one of only two UCs,” overdose prevention peer and third-year psychological & brain sciences and theater double major Phoebe Alva said.
“We also just this year secured [recovery-oriented] living for student housing, which is a huge accomplishment so now students have somewhere to live that’s safe for them.”
The recovery-supportive housing has a live-in student peer mentor and, unlike traditional “sober living,” does not mandate drug testing, monitoring or formal treatment.
GFR also serves as a supportive network for students who have seen a loved one be impacted by a substance use disorder or drug overdose. Alva said she sought to educate herself on the opioid epidemic and ways to improve her community after losing her brother to an accidental overdose.
“My big brother, Tristan Becker Alva, passed away from an accidental overdose, and I realized how naive I am to all things that come with the opioid epidemic and overdoses and harm reduction,” Alva said. “I really started educating myself on it because I wish that I could have helped him, and I want to be able to help other people prevent their loved ones from having the same thing happen.”
Alva said she honored her brother at the art and music festival by incorporating his artwork onto the free t-shirts handed out at the event.
“Another way that I really wanted to honor my brother through the work of harm reduction was by incorporating art and music because he was an artist and a musician,” Alva said. “Throwing an art and music festival is a great way to unite the community so that we can get overdose prevention kits in their hands.”
Attractions at the event included a mechanical bull, a free clothing booth courtesy of Isla Vista Trading Post and vendors selling handmade jewelry, art and clothing. The crowd was also welcomed with performances from local bands The Bad Neighbors, Lemon Generation, French Cinema, Acacia and Michael Seitz.
In addition to the art vendors and musicians in attendance, Generation Recovery included booths from organizations throughout Isla Vista, including I.V. Recreation & Park District, I.V. Food Co-op and Associated Students Food Bank.
Second-year environmental science major and student intern for UCSB’s Life of the Party Brian Kwong tabled at the event and discussed his work with the sister organization to GFR.
“We try to raise awareness about safe drug use and safe drinking and give resources to people who either want to cut down or are trying to go sober,” Kwong said. “Gauchos for Recovery focuses on students who are looking to cut back on substance use or trying to stop entirely. As a sister program, we’re really just out here to try to help support their event.”
Kwong noted recent tragedies related to substance use, including one student death from fentanyl overdose that occurred during Deltopia weekend.
“From Deltopia onwards, there have been some student deaths unfortunately from overdoses,” Kwong said. “I would just remind people who choose to use substances, they should make sure they know what they’re doing so that when they make their choices, they are educated choices and people can stay safe.”
GFR staffed a table supplied with overdose prevention kits during the April 8 Spring Festival, organized by the I.V. Community Services District as a safe, alternative event to Deltopia street-partying.
Alva emphasized that GFR remains committed to furthering recovery resources provided to students and to being accessible to the community. She encouraged students to pick up free Narcan and overdose prevention kits at the recovery lounge, located at Embarcadero Hall room 1105.
“We’re in our office almost every day of the week, free for any student who wants them and we also do group training for any groups on campus who want them,” Alva said. “We are as accessible as you need us to be.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 3 of the May 4, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.