Bay Area nonprofit expanding into Hillsborough County to help more students struggling with addiction

A nonprofit helping teens get an education while battling addiction is expanding into Hillsborough County.

Florida Recovery Schools in Tampa Bay's Victory High Schools is already helping 75 students in Pasco and Pinellas counties. Eight have earned their diplomas. Including 17-year-old Gabe Son, who as of Tuesday is one year sober.

"I was in a facility pretty much going crazy. Going through withdrawals from alcohol," he said. "Knowing I finally broke that cycle is just a great thing. Even when I have an off day, I know that I have this stable community."

Tina Miller founded the school and is now executive director.

"I'm a survivor of childhood trauma, rape and domestic violence," she said. "I was an alcoholic and drug addict by the time I was 19."

She said it was a professor in college who gave her hope.

"She said everything that you've been through is for purpose to help other people in pain and so I changed my major right then and there," she said.

Now, Miller mirrors that hope in Tampa Bay. Her goal is to assist teens 13 to 19 years old gain their diplomas in-person or online.

"It's nice because if they're in residential drug treatment they can continue online with the curriculum," she said.

READ: Florida schools must lock all doors during learning hours starting July 1, creating some challenges

Miller also wants to dispel the stigma surrounding teens and addiction.

"First and foremost, they're not bad. It breaks my heart when these kids come to me and they feel like failures," she said. "What happens is in order to cope with the trauma and the feelings a lot of my students will resort to substances. They use it as a coping mechanism, unfortunately. So what we're doing is we're changing the neurological pathways and we're creating healthy choices for them."

The schools do that by bringing students outdoors through things like kayaking, gardening, and equine therapy.

READ: Hillsborough County schools begin $100M in summer repairs as district touts half-cent sales tax

In August, a Victory High School will open in Tampa and accept 15 students. To register, click here.

On Saturday, June 15, the nonprofit is hosting a Sober and Free event at Nova Southeastern University in Clearwater to celebrate sober teens in Tampa Bay. To register, click here.

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