Addison Kitchin ’24 began Design For Life after recognizing a need for student sobriety support on campus. Photo By Abby Kittler ’24

By Anyssa Logan | Staff Writer | alogan@mail.smcvt.edu

Living on a college campus can seem overwhelming. Adding alcohol and party culture to the mix can lead students to feel lost or find themselves stuck. They may even abuse substances to cope. Design for Life is the newest addition to student organizations at St. Michael’s College, and it focuses on supporting students struggling with sobriety and addiction.

The American College Health Association reports that 39.5 percent of college students visited a healthcare professional for addiction or substance abuse in fall 2020. One in four college students also struggles with their academic workload due to drinking, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Addison Kitchin ’22 is the president of the new student organization. He started the club to create a space to discuss these issues on campus after hearing students voice interest, and reflected on his personal struggle with sobriety on campus.

“When I first came to St. Mike’s, I immediately realized that it’s like, Monday through Wednesday everyone grinds, once it turns to Thursday, that was the night to go out and drink; it was kind of a never-ending cycle… it’s not a good drinking culture,” he said.

Kitchin explained that he struggled with addiction since middle school, and is now three months sober. “I feel better about my sobriety when I’m helping other people with their sobriety,” Kitchin said.

Kathy Butts, counseling director at Bergeron Wellness Center, is the club’s advisor, offering support to students and supplies when necessary for the club. While Butts is the advisor, the club is run by students for students. “There are students on our campus who are concerned about their alcohol or other drug use and would like to talk with other students who are struggling with the same concerns…It can be very powerful for students to talk with other peers who have taken on the issue of substance abuse in their lives and have found productive ways of addressing it and moving forward,” Butts said.

Caroline Rutenberg ’24 is the vice president of Design for Life and runs the club’s Instagram account. She advertises meeting times with the community and prepares the club agenda.

“Our biggest goal is to break the stigma around addiction and alcoholism and offer a safe place for all students to come in and get help,” she said.

Rutenberg openly discusses her journey through sobriety and shares her struggles and successes on social media and in club meetings. Recently, Rutenberg shared her seven month sobriety milestone on Instagram after struggling with addiction in her freshman year.

“My goal is to help people on campus know that they are not alone,” Rutenberg said.

While students can share their stories at club meetings, Kitchin and Rutenberg emphasized that it isn’t necessary to share anything or speak if you’re uncomfortable doing so. “There are no requirements or expectations, it is a safe place for all who want to learn and talk about sobriety,” Rutenberg said.

Lucas Petruzziello ‘24 heard about Design for Life through the Bergeron Wellness Center and attended meetings after speaking with a club member. While Petruzziello was skeptical originally, he learned quickly the importance of the organization. “The ­first meeting felt scary, but I knew deep down it would be good for me,” Petruzziello said.

Kitchin plans to invite guest speakers to attend meetings as the club grows in membership. A guest speaker attended a Design for Life meeting Nov. 18 and shared their experience in a halfway home.

Kitchin plans to collaborate with University of Vermont’s sobriety club next semester. Though Design for Life has only three recurring members, Kitchin and Rutenburg expressed their vision for the club.

“I think the club will only get bigger as word gets around,” Kitchin said. The club meets both weekly on Thursdays at 6 p.m. in Jeanmarie 393 and on Zoom. To learn more about Design for Life, visit their Instagram page @designforlifesmc or contact Kitchin at akitchin@mail. smcvt.edu.