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For Gina Hobika, working in the field of human services has been her passion for more than a decade. Included in her extensive list of accomplishments is running a support group for family members with a loved one suffering from the disease of addiction as well as being a member of an opioid task force that provided vital community education and Narcan training in the midst of the heroin and prescription drug epidemic.

This epidemic made headlines in February after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation to close a loophole allowing 11 types of dangerous fentanyl to be left off the state's controlled substances list. The governor has put his support behind new policies and funding to continue the fight against the epidemic in New York state. Among these policies is expanded insurance coverage for substance abuse disorder treatment as well as increasing access to and enhancing treatment across the state. The growth in these support programs has increased the need for Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselors (CASAC) like Hobika.

In New York state, the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse (OASAS) helps to connect individuals seeking treatment for substance abuse with certified counselors like Hobika, who can provide necessary support. When it comes to supporting those impacted by the disease of addiction, Hobika says it is important to help their loved ones as well. Hobika uses the science of addiction as an educational tool in family support groups to assist members in understanding the brain and its functions in active addiction and in healing through recovery. "It helps to give loved ones/family members a glimpse into how the science of addiction works. Once family members/loved ones understand the concept of the science of addiction, it further helps them understand their loved ones' behavior related to addiction and their behaviors related to recovery," Hobika explains. She adds that this, "opens a pathway to understanding their recovery and how they can best support their loved ones and support themselves through their own journey."

OASAS also oversees the credentialing of counselors as well as education and training providers. Of the approved CASAC education and training providers, Cazenovia College is one of only five colleges in New York state approved to offer the 350 hours of CASAC education and training in a fully online, distance-learning format. (Courses are also available on campus.)

Dr. Mary Handley is the program director of Human Services at Cazenovia College. Handley is proud of being able to share the success of the CASAC program at the College. She explains, "The strengths of the CASAC program are the flexible delivery method of the online courses and our outstanding faculty. This is a great opportunity for professionals to complete the credential while they are working."

While working full-time, Hobika enrolled in the 350-hour CASAC program at Cazenovia College. As a returning non-traditional student, Hobika said she was drawn to Cazenovia College's fully online program, but she was concerned about navigating the online courses. "Returning to school, at my age, was a big step for me," she says. "But the professors were wonderful and navigating the online system was very user friendly."

Furthermore, taking courses in the online format did not get in the way of building personal connections with her classmates and professors. As a graduate of the CASAC program, Hobika credits Cazenovia's faculty for being instrumental to helping her through her studies. She comments, "All the professors are wonderful. They are knowledgeable, accessible, and helpful! Each of their teaching styles are exemplary and helped me to learn more about my course of study than I had anticipated."

Hobika credits Cazenovia College's CASAC program with allowing her to advance in her career. Since completing the CASAC certificate, Hobika landed an exciting new position as the director of services for Johnson Park Center. The Center provides affordable low-income, safe and supportive housing within the inner-city region of Utica, NY, in its Cornhill community. In her new role, Hobika continues to interact with some of the same families and is able to offer housing and support services. 

If you are considering applying for enrollment in the CASAC program, Hobika offers a few words of encouragement. "Stick with it. Cazenovia College is one of the best programs you could enroll in, and the faculty has much knowledge to impart."

Credits students earn towards their CASAC certification may also be applied to an associate or bachelor’s degree in Human Services or a certificate in Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counseling from Cazenovia College. Learn more at www.cazenovia.edu/CASAC.