AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – Monday served as the first day of the 2021-22 spring semester for Amarillo College. But Monday also served as the day where officials with the college’s counseling center brought back an in-person program, helping provide a safe space for students of all ages dealing with substance abuse. 

In partnership with Cenikor’s Youth Recovery Center program, Amarillo College kicked off a support group on the college’s campus for the spring semester Monday. Every Monday at 11:45 a.m. in Room 416 of the Ware Building on the college’s Washington Street campus, a Cenikor representative will lead an in-person peer-to-peer substance support group, which officials hope is a safe space for students to relate to one another in their struggles with substances. 

Azelin Roberts, the team lead for Cenikor’s Youth Recovery Center Program, said this free program is an anonymous way students can share their experiences with one another regarding substances, from vaping and tobacco to harder drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine. The group also gives them access to the center’s resources at no cost. 

Roberts previously worked at Amarillo College, she said. Through her time at the college, she saw firsthand students struggling with substance abuse. Because of this, she wanted to create this group, giving students an opportunity previously not available at the college. 

Jerrod Hinders, the coordinator for the counseling center at Amarillo College, said the college first entered into a partnership with Cenikor about a year ago, providing services to students who want to make these kinds of changes. 

Because COVID-19 impacted the way the counseling center approached some of its services, Hinders wanted to bring back peer-led groups for substance abuse, something he said is a need at Amarillo College. 

“I definitely think there is a need. It’s one that, you know, looking to the research that we have, from data collected from students coming to the counseling center, we have seen that there is a need for substance abuse treatment,” he said. “We’re not equipped within our counseling center ourselves to be a substance abuse treatment facility. So, this was a great opportunity to partner with a foundation in town, a local foundation here, that specializes in this.” 

Peer-led groups give students the opportunities to hear from fellow students struggling in similar situations, Hinders said, subsequently relating to one another and keeping each other accountable. 

However, Roberts stressed that all meetings of the substance support group are confidential among participants. 

“It all comes down to confidentiality. That is something, of course, that we ensure,” she said. “You come in this room, no one speaks of outside this time. The experiences that you share, those are hard experiences, and you don’t want to be put in a situation where that can be used against you.”

While there are opportunities for these kinds of support groups for adults within the Amarillo area, Roberts said it is important for younger individuals to have access as well. She stressed the importance of students having a space where they can relate to one another in a confidential setting, because some friends may not understand. 

“I think just a space where you have people that understand because substance use is so misunderstood and so stigmatized and so labeled. It’s really hard to talk about that to someone who doesn’t understand, similarly to how maybe someone who has a mental illness talks to someone who doesn’t,” Roberts said. “I think my thing is taking the shame compartment out of it. I don’t think someone should be shamed for actually taking that step… It’s truly no different than having, you know, anything else happening to you. It’s just, sometimes people get hooked. Sometimes, people can have four drinks, and nothing happens, and sometimes, you have four or five drinks and that starts to erode to alcoholism. You just don’t always know what your path looks like.” 

Hinders said this partnership, as well as the counseling center in general, may or may not be something that Amarillo College students are aware of. He hopes when students hear about this opportunity, it can become a service that can help them throughout their time at the college. 

“I hope it’s just going to be a resource that helps reduce some of those barriers our students have to academic success,” he said. “If we can remove one of those, whether it be, you know, a habit with substance abuse, or was in the counseling center as some sort of mental health challenge, we want to be there to help remove that for them.” 

For more information about the college’s counseling center and the substance support group, visit the Amarillo College website