Months before Hurricane Karina hit New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta, a perfect storm hit Ed Provencher. His drinking had escalated. A long-term relationship fell apart. He was arrested for driving under the influence five times in six months. He was fired by the company he’d worked for for 15 years.

A month in rehab had not changed his plans. He would go home to Rumford and live out his days as a functional alcoholic: have a job, have a roof over his head and keep on drinking. And that’s pretty much how it went for those first months back in Maine. Ed had a job traveling with an industrial inspections company and when he wasn’t working, he drank.

“Every time I made a decision [to quit], I meant it. People don’t believe that, but it’s true. But I couldn’t not drink for more than a day.”

He got fired again. “To me, having to come home, age 39,was a failure. Now even my failure was a failure.”

At long last, in 2006, Ed got into counseling and quit drinking. That first year was tough and lonely. He’d be in counseling once a week and after that, in summer, he’d walk all the way to the golf course in Mexico, play 18 holes, then walk back.

In winter, he said, “Some weeks, except for counseling, I wouldn’t even get dressed.” Holed up in his dad’s house, Ed watched a lot of television. “If you don’t drink, there aren’t a whole lot of places to go around here.”

It was Ed’s counselor — “… it takes just one person to believe in you” — who steered him to the University College at Rumford-Mexico.

Edwin Provencher had always been a good student: top 10 in his Mexico High graduating class and commencement speaker, two years at North Carolina State University and an associate degree in business administration from Northampton Community College in Pennsylvania.

But UCRM has been something else again — an academic program, yes; a social center, for sure; and the road to renewed hope and self-esteem.

“Ed is not atypical of our students,” Director Jean Kay said. “Many of them” — there are roughly 290 at the center — “come out of very hard situations.”

With all their hardships, the students are serious scholars, and Ed has reveled in discussions and friendships with intellectual peers. Helping others through volunteer service at the college has restored his self-esteem, an upward spiral of achievements.

He is one of the first students who was able to complete the honors program at UMaine-Augusta via distance learning. Ed is just the second Rumford-Mexico college student to be invited into the honors program. He is vice president of the honors group.

His mentors are pressing him to pursue a master’s degree in counseling, rehabilitation counseling at the University of Southern Maine.

He is among the “2011 Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities.”

The university college centers throughout Maine give students such as Ed Provencher a chance to turn their lives into success stories.

Ed’s message: “It’s a lot of work, but you can do it. You can find meaning again, get your life back.”

Linda Farr Macgregor is a freelance writer. Contact her at [email protected]