NEW BEDFORD — For students that have parents or family members struggling with addiction or in recovery, it can be hard to go to school and focus knowing that something’s happening at home. However, those students likely won’t openly talk about it.

“It’s not something that people talk about,” said Chloe Silva, a senior at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational-Technical High School.

“We come to school every day, we keep it a secret,” she said.

Silva and classmate Michael Mendonca, of the information support services and networking shop, are spearheading a new peer-led support group at the high school called “You’re Not Alone” for students like them that have been affected by a loved one suffering from addiction.

The group starts on Tuesday at 2:45 p.m. in the student forum.

When former SouthCoast basketball star Chris Herren spoke to the junior and senior class in May about his own struggles with addiction, Silva recalled wiping her tears away, not wanting peers to see her cry. She turned to find a classmate she’d never talked to, also crying. That was the point she realized “I’m not the only one,” she said, and that someone needed to do something.

She realized she is that someone.

It was originally supposed to be a SkillsUSA project, Silva said, a community service project focused on addiction. Silva said she wanted to focus on the student perspective vs. those who are addicted or in recovery.

“I saw how it affected the whole family,” Silva said, including extended family. “It took a toll on everyone.”

There wasn’t enough time to organize the program, so the group went with something else. Still, this was something Silva was passionate about.

She eventually teamed up with Jamie Casey, adult services director and Terri Belliveau, youth services director at Positive Action Against Chemical Addiction (PAACA) who suggested she get a partner to run the group with her, which is where Mendonca came in.

In a letter she emailed to Dr. Heather Larkin, director of guidance and pupil personnel services, with the help of PAACA staff, she said her father began doing drugs when she was seven years old, she lost family members and know of others in recovery. She’s had the support of her sister and mother to get through it.

Her sister, now 22, had to step up as another parent to stay home and watch Silva, help her do her homework and make sure she was doing well in school, she said.

In his family, Mendonca was the one who had to grow up fast to cook for and care for his younger brother, currently a first-year student at the high school. He also had help from his grandparents, he said.

In preparation of starting their support group, Silva and Mendonca went to a Learn to Cope meeting at St. Luke’s Hospital, for families dealing with addiction and recovery.

“We want to make Greater New Bedford Voc-Tech a safe place where kids can talk about it without being judged,” Larkin said.

The goal for the group is somewhat self explanatory: for students to know they’re not alone. It will be a safe place for students to go to talk to someone that will understand what they’re going through, Silva said.

A graduate student at UMass Dartmouth going for a masters in clinical and behavioral psychology will be the liaison to the school’s guidance staff in these meetings. Students will be able to talk freely and openly with one another, but if they’re in danger in any way, counselors are mandated to report it.

PAACA staff will be able to support the group, walk students through what the group should look like and teach them how to facilitate on their own. Then, Silva and Mendonca can run the group on their own and find their successors before they graduate. They could bring in speakers, but it will mostly be open discussion with peers.

“It hit close to home with me,” Casey said. His two daughters, graduates of Voc-Tech, dealt with him trying to get on the right path in their formative years, he said.

From his personal experience and working at PAACA, the most powerful and potent remedy for addiction and for those hurting is community and relationships, he said.

“Nothing is ever going to be more powerful or effective as community and relationships. Those things will get us through,” he said.

 

Follow Aimee Chiavaroli on Twitter @AimeeC_SCT