Alum offers ‘HOPE’ to substance-abuse victims

Many of us have seen the posters about drinking on campus. One reads, “Most TCNJ students have 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4 drinks if they drink at all.” “Most TCNJ Lions agree with Larry and make responsible choices!” another says.

However, HOPE, a new group on campus, is looking to reach those who consume more than “0, 1, 2, 3 or 4” drinks.

The College is now offering this program for those in need of support or guidance regarding substance-abuse issues, a serious problem on many college campuses.

“HOPE stands for Helping Others by Providing Encouragement, which is exactly what we try and do here: provide encouragement and support,” Matt Leibowitz, alumnus and student mentor for HOPE, said.

The program differs from other on-campus resources like Psychological Counseling Services and the Alcohol and Drug Education Program (ADEP) in that it is entirely student-based.

Leibowitz envisions HOPE as a safe haven for students to come together to discuss their personal stories of recovery or substance-abuse, seek advice for coping with friends or family members struggling with addiction, or simply engage in substance-free activities with other like-minded students.

The HOPE program was brought to the College through the efforts of Mark Woodford, head of Counselor Education, and Joseph Hadge, ADEP counselor, who applied for a competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the N.J. Department of Human Services Division of Addiction Services.

Hadge envisioned a program like HOPE would be “less intimidating than speaking with a counselor or attending an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meeting. This format is more accessible for students because the environment is so relaxed. It’s about building a connection.”

Hadge emphasized that a large part of the program’s appeal is the fact that it is run by Leibowitz, a former student of the College and someone who can connect to students in ways that the staff here may not be able to.

“He really has the demeanor and personality for it,” Hadge said. “He’s someone you’d want to talk to.”

In addition to keeping hours Monday through Friday in Forcina Hall room 441, Leibowitz makes himself available to students via e-mail, AIM, Facebook and MySpace, for those who really need someone to talk to.

“There’s space in the Facebook group for students to share their personal stories or questions, or you could e-mail me at, and of course I’m always available via AIM at TCNJHOPE for people who wish to speak with me anonymously,” Leibowitz said.

Both Leibowitz and Hadge spoke of the importance of intervention on behalf of friends or family members who are struggling with substance-abuse problems and how difficult it can be for students who find themselves in these situations.

Michael Garcia, junior mathematics major, agreed.

“One of my friends needs help but he’d never go on his own, he just doesn’t think he has a problem,” Garcia said. “I feel that a lot of students wouldn’t have the strategies to deal with a situation like this, where a friend might be in trouble.”

HOPE offers students strategies for approaching friends who may be in the depths of drug and alcohol abuse. It also provides students with help coping with difficult family situations aggravated by substance abuse.

Leibowitz offers referrals to students who wish to seek psychological help and feels that the most important thing a student can do for a struggling friend is “to just let them know it’s OK to get help” and to offer physical and emotional support.

Although the program is still in its early phases, HOPE has been working with PEANUTS and ADEP to host a lecture series on Monday evenings with Elliot Driscoll, a renowned psychotherapist who specializes in addiction problems.

In the future, Leibowitz hopes to incorporate additional substance-free, late-night activities into the program, like coffee houses, movie nights and open-mic nights for the musically inclined.

Leibowitz, who plays guitar for his band, Postmark Twain, holds music especially close to his heart and has seen the havoc that drugs and alcohol can wreak on musicians firsthand. He hopes students can come together at HOPE to share their music and stories and experience what he calls a “natural high,” one that only comes from doing what one loves.