BY MADELINE DESROSIERS | PREVENTION LINKS STAFF
It was in 2014 that the Raymond J. Lesniak Experience, Strength & Hope (ESH) Recovery High School first opened its doors to New Jersey teens struggling with substance use disorder. On June 15th, this public New Jersey high school will be celebrating their 7th annual graduation ceremony, where close family and friends will gather to witness and celebrate the enormous accomplishment of these young adults in recovery.
This event is not only a celebration, but helps raise awareness & hope in light of a growing crisis within our communities. According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS), from 2016 to 2020, drug use amongst 8th graders skyrocketed by 61% in the U.S. In the same NCDAC report, results show that 52,000 New Jersey youth ages 12-17 had used drugs in the last month. With overdose rates on the rise, the numbers look grim for those teenagers who go without support for their substance use disorder. That’s where vital and free resources like the Raymond J. Lesniak ESH Recovery High School come in.
“This is a place for second chances”
said Ray during his 2021 graduation ceremony speech. Ray grew up in the city of Elizabeth, just one town over from the Recovery High School. He explained that he was always a happy kid, but struggled with the changes life threw at him. Ray lost his sister at a young age and was having trouble at home. His mother frequently got calls from school regarding Ray’s poor behavior and plummeting grades, ”There was no end in sight…I didn’t know how to get out of the cycle of using drugs.” While Ray was using drugs to cope with his pain, his loving family was at a loss as to how they could help him heal.
After bouncing from school to school, desperately trying to find an educational setting that could lift Ray out of this vicious cycle, he was placed at the
Raymond J. Lesniak ESH Recovery High School. Initially, Ray thought that being placed here was a punishment and struggled to take advantage of what the school had to offer. In his own words, “I was not easy to be kind and patient with!”
The Recovery High School firmly believes in the “it takes a village” approach.
Students have access to a team of educators providing personalized curricula to suit their needs. Additionally, students are supported by another team solely dedicated to walking side-by-side with them on their recovery journey. These recovery support team staff have lived experience of addiction and recovery, and have undergone training to help others suffering with substance use disorder. Between recovery group with their peers, one on one recovery coaching sessions and family group with a counselor, students like Ray gain an entire village of staff dedicated to their success. As Ray puts it, “They never gave up on me.”
Today, this graduate has come a long way since he first joined the Recovery High School. Slowly but surely, Ray learned how to ask for help. He began to open up to staff about his feelings and started showing up each day to improve his grades. Upon graduating, he successfully achieved high grades in nearly all of his classes, and celebrated 2 years sober. He credits not only the staff at the recovery high school for his accomplishment, but most importantly, his mother who firmly stood by him the whole way through, and his father, who always emphasized the importance of receiving an education.
Across the state of New Jersey, there are countless students struggling the same way Ray once did.
This June, more students like him will walk across the stage to receive their diploma. Since the school’s opening, 53 students who have attended have received their high school diploma. This is only made possible by supporters who believe that recovery is possible for these at-risk teens and dedicate themselves to making a difference.
With limited grant funding, the Raymond J. Lesniak ESH Recovery High School is depending on the generosity of their supporters who believe in the potential of these students. With the alarming rates of substance use amongst our youth, it is crucial, now more than ever, that our village of supporters grows to keep this vital resource alive and thriving.
How you can support this cause
If you want to be a link to a brighter future for New Jersey’s at-risk youth, consider making a donation in honor of our 2022 graduating class. You have the power to not only save the lives of teenagers caught in the throws of addiction, but empower them to reach their full potential. No matter how much you have to give, you can be the change and join our village today by visiting https://donate.preventionlinks.org/rhs2022
Supporters can also help by simply raising awareness about the Recovery High School. Discuss the importance of youth drug use prevention with friends and family, and let people know that this free resource is available. To learn more about the Raymond J. Lesniak ESH Recovery High School, visit https://preventionlinks.org/recovery-support/recovery-high-school, or contact Samuel Montanez, Transition Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.