SRU celebrating recovery for participants in community writing program, Dec. 1


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There will be a Celebration of Authors event at 5 p.m., Dec. 1, at Butler SUCCEED, 150 N. Main Street in Butler, which will culminate a five-week writing workshop conducted by students in a Slippery Rock University writing class with people in recovery from addictions.

Nov. 22, 2021

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Stories are powerful and writing them can boost wellbeing and provide healing, especially for people living the harrowing tale of addiction. That's why students in a creative writing class at Slippery Rock University are harnessing the power of storytelling and writing to help people in Butler County overcome substance use disorders.

As part of a program funded by SRU's Office for Community-Engaged Learning, called "Rediscovering Your Story," faculty and students in a Writing Community Stories class have partnered with the Institute for Nonprofit Leadership at SRU and the Butler County Drug and Alcohol Program.

This fall, students completed a five-week workshop with five people in recovery who volunteered for the program after being identified through the BCDAP by case managers and other human services providers. Students gathered stories from participants, such as autobiographies, as well as family-member interviews and narratives about practitioners and administrators who work with them.

The culminating occasion will be a Celebration of Authors event at 5 p.m., Dec. 1, at Butler SUCCEED, 150 N. Main Street in Butler. The event will include readings from a printed, handwoven anthology that will be provided to the participants and a reception with refreshments. The event is open to the public.

Butler SUCCEED, which stands for SRU's Center for Community Engagement, Empowerment and Development, is the University's new off-campus facility in Butler where students conducted the writing workshop with people in recovery under the guidance of the class's instructor, Mark O'Connor, associate professor of English.

"Through Butler SUCCEED, we're bringing SRU to downtown Butler, and as one of the first programs, this class easily dovetails with the mission of the center," O'Connor said. "It's been an amazing experience to (incorporate) community-based writing around people with addiction. We are countering the narrative these are bad people, they need to be written off or it's their fault, and we are getting a fuller voice and seeing the humanity around this issue."

Mark O'Connor


O'Connor received a Butler SUCCEED Fellowship for the Rediscovering Your Story program. The fellowship awards up to $1,000 to SRU faculty and staff to support their students' participation in activities that create, extend or enrich a partnership with a Butler-based community organization outside of the University and align with a Butler SUCCEED program.

"This program gives individuals in recovery a chance to try something new that is filled with positive encouragement and boosts their self-confidence," said Donna Jenereski, director of the BCDAP. "These people are no different than you and me; they're just struggling with a disease. We look forward to future initiatives like this that have an impact on recovery and erasing the stigmas."

Melina Bowser, a junior English writing major from Pittsburgh, was one of five students in the class who traveled to Butler SUCCEED for five consecutive Wednesday evenings for the workshop, conducting group activities and one-on-one interviews.

"I didn't know what to expect coming into this class, but I think I've gotten more out of it than I could've ever imagined," Bowser said. "Getting to hear these stories directly from the people who experienced them was so extraordinary and heartrending. They trusted us, complete strangers, with the stories of their lowest lows, but we then got to hear about their recoveries and how they've overcome obstacles and turned their lives around to be the healthiest and happiest version of themselves."

There are 15 students in the class: five interviewed family members, five interviewed practitioners who work in recovery and five traveled to Butler SUCCEED to host the writing workshops with the people recovering from addiction. In addition to Bowser, the four other students who went to Butler SUCCEED were Claire Kleffman, a sophomore English writing major from McMurray; Alyssa Phifer, a junior English writing major from Pittsburgh; Emilee Friend, a junior English writing major from Markleysburg; Rachael Robinson, a senior English writing major from Butler.

"I gained a lot of knowledge on writing and conducting oral history interviews during this course, but more importantly, I learned so much about Butler's community and the people in it," Bowser said. "This whole experience has given me a new perspective on life and understanding how different other people's experiences can be from my own. We all need to treat people with kindness and compassion and help out the people around us whenever we are given the opportunity."

O'Connor said that presenting the anthologies to participants will hold special meaning.

"We're welcoming them into a community of writers," O'Connor said. "They are writers now. It counts and their story counts, and this is a demonstration for the respect of what they told us. Next to storytelling, writing is one of our oldest, most vital and fundamental artforms, and putting your thoughts on paper, there's permanence to it and it's worth preserving."

For more information about the Celebration of Authors event, contact the INL at 724.738.4912 or More information about the BCDAP is available on the Butler County website. More information about English writing programs at SRU is available on the English Department webpage.

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854  |