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Heartland receives state grant for Recovery Support Specialist program

January 13, 2022

Heartland Community College has been awarded a state grant for a program that supports the area’s growing need for mental health support professionals.

The Illinois Department of Human Services has presented Heartland $710,088 in grant funding to support the Certified Recovery Support Specialist (CRSS) program. The CRSS program prepares students for entry-level positions as behavioral health workers, specifically in the areas of substance abuse and mental health disorders recovery. Recovery Support Specialists work in a variety of capacities, such as outpatient drug and alcohol treatment, sobriety maintenance settings like sober houses, and behavioral health.

“The Recovery Support Specialist program is based in recovery-oriented systems of care, a newer model of treatment for substance abuse and mental wellness,” said Kelly Pyle, Associate Dean of Health Sciences. “This model recognizes the value of people with lived experiences in substance abuse, mental illness, or the legal system in providing support to others going through these challenges. It’s a really exciting field, and the need for recovery support specialists is growing.”

The grant will allow Heartland to expand the established CRSS program with more support resources to students, including funded practicum experiences and assistance with tuition, books, fees, and certification costs.

Heartland’s CRSS program was launched in the fall of 2021 with nine students in its first sequence of courses. The program is the first of its kind at an Illinois community college.

“The state recognizes this critical need for more workers in behavioral health, and this grant will help us expand our program and serve more of our community,” said Jennifer O’Connor, Dean of Health Sciences. “With the help of this grant, in addition to academic courses, we will develop paid practicum experiences in addition to other wrap-around support services. This helps quickly move these students directly into this vital area of the healthcare workforce.”

The CRSS program was developed in collaboration with Chestnut Health Systems in response to a projected need for certification programs in substance abuse, behavioral disorders, and mental health. Peer recovery programs are becoming more widely adopted in the U.S., following the recommendations of the President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, published in July, 2003. Job growth is promising, as Illinois is one of several states working to establish guidelines for education and certification.

Enrollment is now open for the Heartland CRSS program, with classes beginning on February 7.  For more information or call 309-268-8740.


Written by: Steve Fast