I recently got the opportunity to attend the Treatment Professionals in Alumni Services (TPAS) Collaborative in Malibu, California and was asked to share my experience. Allow me to break down what an amazing time it was.
First off, I got invited to attend by my boss who said I could go this last spring to the Collaborative in Texas. Now, not knocking Texas but I was trained by The Price Is Right. Yes, the television show we all watched when we were home “sick” from school. You NEVER go for the first option in the Showcase Showdown, the second one is always better. Sure, you get a boat and nice grill with the first option, but the second Showcase is a truck, a boat, AND a trip! So I opted to wait for Malibu in the fall, this was a good choice.
The Collaborative was held at the Serra Retreat in the foothills of Malibu with a beautiful view of the coastline and hills. Also, the retreat still had resident Fryers in attendance as it is a spiritual retreat. In my mind I was convinced that I would be walking the grounds and a Fryer would ask if I wanted to learn Kung Fu. I always wanted to learn Kung Fu so I was stoked to go.
We left on a Saturday and I knew immediately that this was going to be an epic trip. The young woman who sat next to me on the plane plopped down and the first thing she said is, “I don’t fly well, I have been drinking, and am going to take some Xanax and pass out. Feel free to climb over me if you need to pee.” Amazing…and yes, I got her number. First stop after we arrived was to none other than In-and-Out Burger. Oh, how I missed this fatty, carb-loaded gift from the heavens. Dbl- dbl w cheese, Animal Style (extra Thousand Island spread, mustard grilled patties, and extra pickles) and a vanilla shake; truly incredible. We get checked into the retreat and as I look around the grounds I was in awe at the peace and beauty of the place, it just “felt” spiritual. I looked for my Kung Fu master but no luck. Maybe tomorrow.
The second day just before the conference started, I rented a longboard and hit the waves. Beautiful waves, while a bit cold, I was stoked. As I paddled out I was concerned that I was not local and would be run off. I watched Point Break and I know how territorial these surfers can be, and since I still don’t know Kung Fu I might get beat up. I paddled into the lineup and this older guy said hello. We started small talk and come to find out he was 32 years sober that day. The universe was lining up well for me, other than the lack of Kung Fu. I caught wave after wave and rode the longest swell of my life. Elated, I said good bye to my new friend and hiked back up to the retreat to get everyone checked in.
As everyone came in I was taken aback by a few things. First off, there were people from all over the U.S. and Canada coming to share their treatment centers’ knowledge and passion in the field of alumni services. Secondly, and most importantly, everyone was so lighthearted and congenial. You know how you can just sense a good person; well that feeling was in everyone who checked in. What a good group of humans to spend a few days with.
At dinner that night everyone laughed and shared a bit about themselves and the centers they work for and a common theme developed. Everyone was here for the same thing; to enhance the way we work with our alumni. Community, connection, and support seem to be the thread that weaves us all together in a tapestry of alumni relations.
The next day as the conference began in earnest I started the day as I did every day there, in the ocean chasing waves. Then, as always, I returned to property always looking for my Kung Fu master, to no avail, yet again, and jumped into as many groups as I could. Being as the retreat was a collaborative and not a conference, we set the schedule. Each person took the chance to lead a group on what they either needed advice on, or what they excelled at. No Kung Fu, but there was a spiritual walk and meditation. Self-care is a huge part of my job and my own personal recovery so I jumped all over that.
Over the next few days I listened to what each center was doing to support their alumni and new ideas they had for activities. There were so many amazing ideas that it could be a little overwhelming, but every time I got overwhelmed, I just took a breath of the cool California air and dove back in.
One of the hot topics for this group was outcome studies and strategies on how to get them. The idea of what you call ‘success’ varies from each center and how we obtain that information is just as challenging. Keeping the alumni program from just being a statistic-driven tool is vital to the intent of alumni relations. One of the things I like most about my department is that it is truly designed to be a way to help alumni stay sober regardless of where you are at in recovery. The newest numbers state that if an alcoholic can make it to five years sober, they have an 80% chance of staying sober the rest of their life. So how do we get them there? Community, connection, and support drive the heart of almost every great program there. Some do weekend retreats, some do local groups all over the country, some conduct online meetings for those in rural areas. Many are using recovery coaches in there models and some are inviting alumni back to campus to partake in a day where they actually go back to groups with PHP and caseload with their therapist and share about their personal recovery.
It was almost like the meetings never stopped, the ideas kept flowing for all four days. Even at dinner, everyone was still sharing all they could to help each other and what was working for them. As the collaborative drew to a close, I was amazed by how much information I was given in such a short time. We all want to do what is best for our alumni, but seeing how everyone does things a little differently is humbling and very hopeful because information shared is mutually beneficial.
As I packed and got ready to come home I was really amazed at all I was taking with me. Not just a renewed sense of purpose in my job but a real desire to make it better. The only regret I have for the week is that I never learned Kung Fu. Then it hit me…I had learned Kung Fu! I learned how to better grow our alumni department, better battle for those in addiction, fight the demon that tries to take our clients AMA, and help heal myself and those in recovery. I learned TPAS Kung Fu, and my Kung Fu is strong.