Jimmy Wright Receives Governor’s Award for Founding First Recovery High School in the Triangle
NC State staff member Jimmy Wright and his wife Leah wanted to help other families struggling with addiction. Now they are running a recovery high school, building bridges to continued education and life free of substance use.
Watching a child struggle with an addiction to alcohol or other drugs can leave parents feeling helpless. Jimmy Wright, director of operations and planning for Campus Enterprises, knows that feeling very well. He and his wife Leah experienced it with one of their sons.
“When we were going through this, it was very difficult and quite hopeless-seeming because there were no resources out there,” said Jimmy. “When kids got into trouble, kids got kicked out, they were told that they just couldn’t go back to school.”
The pain of that experience and the desire to help other families going through similar challenges led Jimmy and Leah to establish the Wake Monarch Academy, the first recovery high school in the Research Triangle region of North Carolina.
They took everything that they learned and wanted to turn it into something positive for other people who were going through the same thing.
“Wake Monarch Academy is for students who are in recovery from substance use and allows them a safe and supportive environment where they can be around other peers their same age, working to continue their high school diploma, but also have the recovery support that’s integrated throughout the school day,” said Leah, the school’s executive director.
On Oct. 25, Jimmy received the Governor’s Award for Public Service in recognition of his work with Wake Monarch Academy. He was eligible for consideration as a recipient of one of NC State’s 2022 Awards for Excellence, for which he was nominated by several of his colleagues in Campus Enterprises, including Jennifer Gilmore.
“Like a lot of families, mine has also rallied around loved ones who suffer from addiction,” said Gilmore, director of marketing and communication for Campus Enterprises. “It’s a terrible thing, and it destroys families. It destroys lives. But instead of allowing it to destroy their family, [Jimmy and Leah] not only found a way through it, they took everything that they learned and wanted to turn it into something positive for other people who were going through the same thing. That is why I felt like I needed to nominate him.”
In his role at NC State, Jimmy oversees capital planning and construction projects on campus, as well as facilities maintenance and operations. His expertise was invaluable when he and Leah were searching for a location for Wake Monarch Academy, working to get their school’s new facilities ready for students and establishing policies and procedures for its operation.
“When we started, we said, even if we just impact one life, one family, all of this will be worth it,” said Leah. “To be able to provide the support for these adolescents and their families, so they get the support that they need, so they can be in recovery for the rest of their lives and have meaningful lives and meaningful careers and families to come, is something. But to go alongside Jimmy — I couldn’t imagine doing this with anybody else but him.”
The school has been up and running since the fall of 2021, giving high school students a supportive environment in which to continue both their education and their recovery. Now, Jimmy is reaching out to campus recovery programs at NC State and other UNC System schools to begin building relationships. It’s important to him and to Leah that the students at Wake Monarch Academy know that higher education is an option for them, and recovery resources are available to help them succeed and thrive on a college campus.
At NC State, those resources are housed in Prevention Services, which provides case management, education and outreach for students seeking mental health and substance use support. They host a weekly drop-in space and also provide referrals for students in need of clinical support. Prevention Services is also home to the student organization Pack Recovery.
Students who are in recovery and are a part of a collegiate recovery program are more likely to graduate, and typically they feel more socially connected to other students, too.
“The role of Pack Recovery essentially is to provide students with an alternative college experience that’s free of alcohol or other drugs,” said Laurie Capps Bolster, a graduate assistant in Prevention Services and third-year doctoral student in the counselor education program.
“Overall, students who are in recovery and are a part of a collegiate recovery program are more likely to graduate, and typically they feel more socially connected to other students, too,” she said. “So it’s a really great opportunity for students just to get to know each other and build those genuine human connections with one another.”
For Jason Saville, the president of Pack Recovery and a doctoral candidate in industrial and organizational psychology, the club serves as both a community of support and an advocacy organization, educating faculty and staff about the experiences of students in recovery and the resources available to them.
“It can seem sometimes like everyone on campus is using alcohol or other substances, and it can be really normalized,” said Saville. “Part of what we do is showing students that there are people that are also not using substances. But we’re also demonstrating that you can still have fun without substances and successfully navigate school and all of the stressors that come with it, and that there are other people working on the same thing and working on bettering themselves.”
Pack Recovery hosts weekly meetings, Fun Friday events, volunteer activities and retreats, all designed to provide a great college experience and a welcoming community for students that is free of substance use. It also gives students in recovery a judgment-free safe space in which to learn from and support one another.
Jimmy hopes that learning about groups like Pack Recovery will inspire the students at Wake Monarch Academy to feel comfortable with the idea of continuing their education and their recovery into college. He knows that the school is still in its early days, but with the relationships he’s building and the attention the school is receiving thanks to the Governor’s Award, it’s positioned for growth.
“This has been so wonderful, to be recognized by my peers at NC State and others in the state of North Carolina,” said Jimmy. “I’m thankful that we are able to share about the school and help raise awareness. That’s what it’s about — helping the school to not just be condensed into a small box, but to raise awareness across the state and others.
“We’re only just scratching the surface of it now. I’m very thankful and I want people and parents to know that there is a way, and there is hope.”