Ivana Grahovac

Spawglass Superintendent Mick Fegan oversees construction in Bellmont Hall on Wednesday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Aaron Berecka | Daily Texan Staff

The Center for Students in Recovery will relocate from the basement of the School for Social Work to Bellmont Hall early next year after a larger space for the program is constructed. 

While operating in the basement, center employees have dealt with sewage leaks and cockroach issues, which sometimes make the space uninviting for students who come to use recovery services, said the center’s director Ivana Grahovac.

“It’s already so hard for people to ask for help when they’re struggling with disease — why would we make them come to a room that is so substandard when they’re already so marginalized?” Grahovac said.

Grahovac said the program’s new space will include a break room, a lounge room for students and four offices for the staff. Originally, center administrators planned to reduce the number of offices already existing in the Bellmont location, but Grahovac said the quality of the rooms and the anticipated growth of the program made them reconsider.

“Those four rooms were in perfectly fine condition,” Grahovac said. “In fact, the original plan was to tear them down and create three offices out of four, but we walked through there, we were like ‘Wow, we’re actually going to be growing so it’s better to leave it as it is, and it would help us keep in budget.’” 

The project does include renovation of about 3,000 square feet of the second floor which will create a large meeting space for students to congregate.

Deborah Femat, project manager with Project Management and Construction Services, said the Bellmont space was formerly part of the kinesiology department but is now being renovated to meet the needs of the center.

“They have all these wonderful spaces now in the FAC and the SAC where everybody can sit around and work on their computers,” Femat said. “That’s basically what this is, but it can also be used in meetings.”

Grahovac said the original project cost was $200,000, but has escalated to $330,000. She said the center was able to raise the extra money by reaching out to supporters.

“Our fundraising is built on relationships,” Grahovac said. “Some organizations that are nonprofit have luncheons and events where they charge money to raise money for their operating expenses, but we prefer to raise money through relationships and ongoing partnerships, gifts from grants, donations [and] endowments.”

Economics senior Lance Mixon, a service co-chair for Students in Recovery, said he is excited for the new space.

“I’ve only been waiting like three years,” Mixon said. “[Moving is] a huge step, and its not because we’re not successful [in the current building], but part of it is the facade and being in the stadium and the attitude toward Bellmont hall … It’s all just different.” 

The Center will move into the new facility in mid-January.

Correction: Due to a reporting error this article which originally ran in the Nov. 21 issue of The Daily Texan has been corrected. The project's current cost was originally reported as $390,000.

Steps to Recovery: Finding Strength

Ivana Grahovac is five-and-a-half years recovering from a heroin addiction and said her work with students at the center helps her maintain sobriety. She hopes to help the self-funded center grow with fundraising so that it can support more of the hundreds of students on campus who might need its services.

Photo Credit: Tamir Kalifa | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: This is the last installation in a three-part series about students involved in UT’s Center for Students in Recovery — their paths to addiction and how they achieved sobriety. Read the first part of the series, Losing Control, and the second part, Hitting Bottom. Watch the interactive documentary.

Tucked away in the basement of the School of Social Work, dozens of students, alumni and community members meet to share stories and support each other in a fight for their lives.

They come from places of chemical addiction, years plagued with anxiety, failed relationships and abandoned dreams. At the Center for Students in Recovery, a self-funded program of University Health Services, they come together to work the 12 Step Program, make friends and reach out to other addicts.

Coordinator Ivana Grahovac, a five-and-a-half-year recovering heroin addict who earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan, said the center provides a refuge for students who need to escape the UT party scene that challenges their sobriety each day.

“Students meet here, they eat here, they sleep here during the day sometimes,” Grahovac said. “We have meetings here, and we share our strengths, experiences and hopes. It’s our little oasis.”

As Grahovac continues to stay clean and sober after overcoming an addiction that began when she was visiting her parents’ home country of Croatia and modeling in Milan in the early 2000s, she said the students she works with help keep her clean, and she tries to do the same for them.

“They absolutely transmitted such a positive strong energy that it kept me sober and alive going through this super intense transition from being a student in Michigan to being a professional in Texas,” said Grahovac, who started working at the 7-year-old center in March.

Many of the students at the center came to UT because they knew about the program, she said. UT is one of only 14 schools in the country with such a center. Others struggled with addiction while at the University and found a family at the center when they finally began recovery.

History senior Joseph King grew up with two alcoholic parents. Although his mother got sober when King was young, he said he saw his father drink every day. Once King started drinking in high school, he was constantly abusing alcohol. At UT, he joined Sigma Phi Epsilon because he said he wanted to be in an environment where friends and family wouldn’t question his daily drinking.

After passing out drunk and getting a serious head injury during his sophomore year, his parents sent him to a long-term treatment program in Colorado. At first, he said he was miserable.

“I was two-and-a-half months sober when I decided to finally work the steps and stop fighting everybody and everything that was telling me I was an alcoholic,” King said. “From there on, my life started to get better. I was able to enjoy life every day like I had never been able to when I was drinking.”

After King started treatment, his father, who asked The Daily Texan not to publish his name, began his own recovery process after decades as a functional alcoholic. Their parallel journeys have given both of them strength to stay sober, they said.

“Helping a son is a natural parental instinct, and our relationship became stronger and deeper,” King’s father said. “When I think about my sobriety, part of what I think of is that my son is doing it too. It’s a good thing for me, and I suspect it’s a good thing for him.”

Getting sober helped former and future UT student Chris Hubbert return to photography and regain stability after a five-year addiction to amphetamines, particularly Adderall, he said. He is currently on medical withdrawal from UT, but Hubbert continues to be involved with the center and said it provides a base of support as he continues to recover and allows him to give back to other recovering students.

“Being a sponsor [to another addict] is the most amazing part. As soon as I did that, being in recovery took on a whole new meaning,” Hubbert said. “The more [love] I give away, the more there is a fullness that I have in my chest that I’ve never had before in my life.”

Since May 2009, when Hubbert left school to start treatment after failing his sixth year, he has worked in a wine factory but said he is never tempted to start using again because of his success with the 12 steps.

“I’m around alcohol every day, I’ll break bottles and have wine all over me, and it’s not really a problem,” Hubbert said. “Through working the steps and working with a sponsor and sponsoring people myself, the obsession for me to want to use has gone away.”

A bright future awaits students at the center who are committed to their education and sobriety, Grahovac said. She said she will continue to support her students and help raise funds for the center with a coffee sale program called Grounds for Recovery, created with a donation from the family of Student Government President Scott Parks. UT System regent and recovering alcoholic Steve Hicks is helping Grahovac design an endowment program that would earn the center $500,000 over the next five years.

Hubbert is returning to UT in January to finish his degree and work as an apprentice under a photography professor. King said he’s not sure what he wants to do upon graduation, but he is taking life one day at a time and has found a new passion for running.

“About a year ago, I started running because I was bored, and I started really liking it,” King said. “I did a 10K and I wanted to do more because I’m an alcoholic, and when I like something I want to do more of it.”

On Saturday, King ran a marathon.

Drug abuse and genital warts are two often-ignored women’s issues that the sisters of Zeta Sigma Chi highlighted on Wednesday during Women’s Health Day 2010.

Women and women’s resource providers gathered in the Texas Union to inform students about the prevalence of issues that often afflict women but are seldom covered by the media.

Speakers distributed information about sexual and mental health, drug and alcohol abuse and nutrition.

People often stigmatize women who struggle with addiction by thinking they look or act a certain way, said Ivana Grahovac, program coordinator of the Center for Students in Recovery.

Grahovac said it took her eight years to complete her undergraduate studies partially because she took time off to model, intern in Washington, D.C., and, later, struggle with drug addiction.

“I struggled with bulimia and I was addicted to heroin,” she said. “I was letting my addiction systematically destroy everything I had in my life, and I was ready to give up.”

Grahovac has spent years educating students and parents about how to deal with addiction, and introducing them to recovery. She also welcomed students to the women’s Alcoholics Anonymous group that meets Fridays at 8 a.m.

“At the center we let students know there is a beautiful life out there, and we want to help them find the best version of themselves possible,” she said.

Sexual health issues often affect college students, said Guli Fager, health education coordinator at the Health Promotion Resource Center.

Fager said although most of the diseases she helps students cope with are curable, they often take their toll on students emotionally.

“A student having to deal with the reality of a [sexually transmitted infection] can be really heartbreaking,” she said. “We try to comfort them and say, ‘We’ll get you help,’ but it’s up to them to be proactive in staying healthy.”

The center provides students with prevention information and up to three free condoms a day, and refer treatment in the event of an infection.

Women’s Health Day is a Zeta Sigma Chi annual program that is usually hosted in Jester where members pass out informational pamphlets.

Nutrition senior Peace Dike said it was important for this year’s event to be more effective because their former method of tabling was not sending the message they wanted.

“We want to impact women and give them tangible information about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but we weren’t doing that passing things out at a table once a year,” Dike said.