How Minneapolis College became the first Collegiate Recovery Program at a 2-year college in Minnesota


Photographer Kristina Schultz

Riley Einspahr works as a student recovery advocate in the Collegiate Recovery Program.

Gabriella Raspa, Staff Writer

Growing up, Riley despised alcohol. He had no interest in it but was struggling with his mental health and feeling like he didn’t fit in this world.  It never occurred to him that alcohol might be a solution to these problems.

At a family reunion, he felt particularly uncomfortable when his dad’s cousin gave him an appletini. Without giving it much thought, he downed the drink. Then another, and another, and another. By the time he finished the fourth drink, he thought, “I’m going to do that for the rest of my life.”

At the age of 19 Riley became an opportunistic drinker.  Riley liked the effect alcohol had on him.  He quickly spiraled down, becoming a daily drinker, flunking out of college, and unable to hold a job.

While alcohol was the solution for his depression in the beginning, it quickly turned into a completely different beast.  After about two years of drinking, Riley wanted to kill himself on a daily basis. After multiple attempts to kill himself and several visits to the psychiatric facility, Riley reached a point of desperation.

“I got to a point where I thought, I’m going to kill myself but I’m too scared to kill myself.” Riley Einspahr was drowning in his alcoholism with no solution in sight.

He was taken to Fairview Riverside Hospital where he told them about how much he was drinking.  They told him he was an alcoholic. Shocked at this statement, he said, “I’m not an alcoholic, I’m just a sad college student.” A nurse brought him to a 12 step meeting. From there, Riley was able to go to treatment and a sober house.  He is now an active member in his recovery program.

Riley is a student at Minneapolis College and works as a student recovery advocate in the Collegiate Recovery Program (CRP). His job is to connect students with resources, send emails, do presentations, let students know the program exists, and work with The All Recovery Meeting. The All Recovery Meeting is a gathering of students and community members who meet every Wednesday at 3:00pm.  It was created to help those in recovery support each other. They talk about their upcoming goals and what they are doing for their recovery. Students are trained to facilitate these meetings.

In 2015, during the National Day of Celebrating Recovery, during the Operation Recovery Fair,  CRP Coordinator Dr. Lofgren, and a faculty member in the Addiction and Counseling Program, gave the idea to start a Collegiate Recovery Program from one of the fair attendees. He spoke with a gentleman from the StepUP program at Augsburg College and decided to go on sabbatical to create a proposal for a Collegiate Recovery Program at Minneapolis College. He went to Texas Tech to learn from the students and faculty there.

By fall of 2017, the Collegiate Recovery Program was started at Minneapolis College. It was the first Collegiate Recovery Program at a two-year college in the state of Minnesota, however this is not the only Collegiate Recovery Program in the United States. The first three programs were created in the 90’s. Rutgers College began the first program, followed by Texas Tech and Augsburg University (previously called Augsburg College). CRP employs a part time licensed counselor, two student recovery specialists, a recovery navigator, and Dr. Lofgren. They are looking for an opioid response coordinator through AmeriCorps.

Riley is on track to graduate with his associate in science degree in addiction counseling and plans to continue on to Augsburg University for a bachelor’s in behavioral health.

From left to right: Dave Hadden, Toby Piper Labelle, and Don Warren (Photographer Donald Hunter)

Toby Piper Labelle is one of the co-creators of the StepUP Program at Augsburg University. Toby had a number of years in recovery from alcoholism while attending college. Toby, along with Don Warren and Dave Hadden, felt a sober dorm was needed as a way for people in recovery to enjoy the college experience while staying sober. Don was the faculty member that agreed to help set up this program and Dave was a friend of Toby’s at Augsburg.

Augsburg used donor funding to build the Oren Gateway building which houses the student dorms. Students are required to have six months of sobriety in order to be accepted. Students meet with a counselor once a week and have meetings as a group to give each other support. Fundraisers are held so students can go skydiving, do rope courses, and even inner tubing.

Dave Hadden went on to start the Association of Recovery in Higher Education (ARHE). ARHE named Minneapolis College’s Collegiate Recovery Program as the fifth most recognized program out of 1,462 colleges supporting students in recovery.

Matt Kreye and his wife, Lindsay – At StepUP Matt focused on academics, helping others, and finding love. (Photo submitted by Matt Kreye)

Not all Collegiate Recovery Programs are built the same and students do still face challenges. I spoke with a former student of Minneapolis College and the StepUP Program. Matt Kreye successfully graduated from StepUP three years ago. He said that while people did relapse in the program, it did not affect him. He was focused on his academics, helping others, and finding love. He managed to do all of these things and said, “I was given the opportunity to grow through the challenges I faced during my time at StepUP.” He found the program kept him accountable. He learned how to better handle negative emotions as well as find patience and tolerance for those he disliked. When asked if Matt had any suggestions for improvement, he said, ”Be harder on people. Don’t just give people what they want because they are having a bad day. After all, alcoholism is a disease of perception.”

Matt did find love at StepUP and married his wife in June of 2021.

Students at StepUP generally keep a GPA of 3.4 or above and there is a 93% abstinence rate from drugs and alcohol. Toby went on to say, “We’re so excited for MCTC* now that they have a collegiate recovery program and we’re so proud of them. As we know it’s saving lives.” He also said, “As a student in recovery myself I never wanted the decision to attend college to be life or death. This is why we created StepUP to give these students support so they can succeed.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with drugs or alcohol, please go to the Collegiate Recovery Program in the H-2100 building. They have a plentitude of different resources, including meeting lists. They can connect you with resources for mental health, physical health, tutoring and unity within your community. There are many different avenues to find the resources you need for success.  Dr. Lofgren said, “There is no wrong door to getting help.” You can find more information at Collegiate Recovery Program or The Association of Recovery in Higher Education (ARHE).

*MCTC – Minneapolis Community and Technical College, now called Minneapolis College.