Jake White started hosting sober house parties in college to give students a place to have fun and meet new people without the pressure of using drugs or alcohol. His parties were an immediate hit. Jake decided to turn his idea into a business and started Party.0. He now travels around the country teaching college and high school students how to throw the best sober house parties.
Trey Dyer is a writer for DrugRehab.com and an advocate for substance abuse treatment. Trey is passionate about sharing his knowledge and tales about his own family’s struggle with drug addiction to help others overcome the challenges that face substance dependent individuals and their families. Trey has a degree in journalism from American University and has been writing professionally since 2011.
Hello and welcome to another edition of Ready for Recovery. I’m your host, Trey Dyer. Last year I heard about this guy named Jake who created a company called Party.0. It all started when Jake was in college.
Jake never really got into drinking. He said he got drunk once at a party and he hated it, mostly because he ended just sitting on a couch buzzed the whole night doing nothing. But just because he hated drinking didn’t mean he didn’t want to be want to be social.
In 2012, Jake and some friends started throwing sober house parties at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh where they were students. The first Party.0 event was at a small apartment in Oshkosh. They were expecting 30 people at most. Eighty showed up. Party.0 was an immediate hit.
That first sober party has blossomed into a nationwide movement. Jake is joining us today to tell us more about how Party.0 got started and what they’re doing at colleges across the country.
Hey Jake, this is Trey Dyer from DrugRehab.com. How are you doing today?
Hey Trey, doing real well. How about you?
I’m doing great, man.
Thank you for agreeing to come on the Ready for Recovery Podcast. We’re glad to have you here today.
Yeah, absolutely man. Excited for it.
Cool. I guess I’d like to start by hearing how Party.0 got started? What was the idea behind the movement? How it came to be?
Absolutely. So I actually started Party.0 when I was a junior at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. That’s where I went to school, and I found out right away that if you don’t drink then your social life is really going to suffer.
And I experienced that for a couple years and being like really outgoing as I am and fun and energetic, I found out like the week was my party.
You know, I was involved. I was in student clubs. I was meeting people, having fun. Tons of things to do. And the weekend, that’s where the big void was.
People knew that I didn’t drink — or once they did find out, they didn’t invite me out to parties, started assuming things about me, that I was either boring or maybe I was arrogant. You know, how could you be different from us and not do what everybody else is doing?
So I actually learned to kind of hide my decisions and not tell people that I was sober.
And just to backtrack a little bit, my decision came from watching my uncle in recovery throughout my life. You know, I had seen the hardships that he went through, and I didn’t want to go through those myself. I wanted to learn from what he did.
So I made it that point to stay sober in college and eventually leading now to staying sober for life.
So basically after a couple years of feeling alone and isolated on my campus with 9,000 students, even though I was out there making friends and having fun, I heard a statistic. And the statistic said that nearly 30 percent of college students don’t drink or use any drugs.
And I was just floored by that. I was like there’s no way that that’s possible. You know, I’ve met hundreds and hundreds of students and not one has said anything about being sober to me.
And as I kind of had that conversation with myself, I realized that “Jake, if you’re so outgoing and energetic and relentless about meeting people and you’ve chosen to hide your decision to be sober, why would anyone else chose to reveal that information?”
And it kind of made me realize that if I don’t create something or create a change on my campus for sober people to in a way come out and say, “hey, I’m sober and this is cool,” and create a place for people to have fun and meet each other in a place without a keg or a bar, then I can’t really expect anyone else to do it. So I decided to take on that challenge, and that’s where the idea of the sober house party was born in my mind.
And so I just partnered up with my buddy, Steve. I asked him if he wanted to throw these sober house parties with me. He said absolutely, I think that’s a great idea, and he told me about how he would actually drive home from campus every weekend his freshman year because he didn’t want to get into drinking.
Is Steve sober now?
Steve actually was not sober. I was the sober one, and he liked to drink, but he also saw the value in what we were creating for people who are underage. So he was sober until he was 21.
That year we were actually both 21 years old when we started the business our junior year of college. It was a cool dynamic, too, because a lot of students who come to our parties — not all of them are completely sober. Some of them like drinking, but it’s cool that we can bring them into a sober atmosphere and show them “hey, you know, if you want to take the night off or you ever feel that drinking is not for you, you’ll have a place to go. You’ll know that you can have fun and make friends and fit in without using this stuff.” So it’s a cool outreach way.
I guess that’s the short story of how it was created.
So how did you get the word out about Party.0?
I had to be very delicate about the branding and how I created Party.0. And that’s the first thing that Steve and I discussed. Since he was a marketing major, he understood how people would visualize it.
So if you come up to someone and say, “Hey, want to come to a sober party or a sober house party?” they might laugh at you or say, “That’s ridiculous, no one would go to that.”
So how we branded it — we didn’t want to make it a student club right away because we hadn’t validated the idea. We hadn’t shown people that “hey, this is going to be cool. There’s going to be so many students here.” And we didn’t even know that ourselves.
So what we did right away is we just canvassed the campus. We asked around. We sent out a survey, an anonymous survey, and found out “hey, why are you going to these house parties with drinking, why are you going to bars? And if we provided an atmosphere like that but without alcohol, would you give it a shot?”
And what we found out was that the top reasons why people were actually going to these drinking venues is number one, they just wanted a place to hang out with their friends, and number two, they wanted a place to meet new friends.
And to us that made total sense, because, you know, connections are everything, and in college, no one wants to feel isolated. They’re all about their social life. And, you know, you have this four-year period among thousands of students, so to feel alone in that is kind of like a student’s worst fear.
So we said, “You know, if we could help you make friends, fit in, have fun without that, would you check it out?” And actually 90 percent of them responded, “Yes, we would come check out a sober house party.”
And so that was our first step to validate the idea in a way and say “you know, we feel like we’re the crazy ones for wanting this, but are there other crazy people out there.”
And that’s when we found out, well there are. Maybe we’re not that insane. So that gave us permission to move forward.
Very cool. So the next step, I’m guessing, had to be the first Party.0 event, correct?
Yes, yes. And that was a two part process.
So in order to get the word out, we wanted to do it just like alcohol parties did it because that’s the frame of reference we had that actually worked.
People weren’t coming to campus events. They’re not coming to these shows and comedians. You know, the university is rolling out events that cost thousands of dollars and they’re awesome, and students aren’t showing up.
So we looked at well, why aren’t they showing up there? Why are they showing up to house parties? Let’s duplicate what actually works.
So Steve and I went out with a notebook and a pen and we met 129 people in one day. And our goal was to, number one meet as many people as possible, number two, ask for their phone numbers by inviting them to our sober house parties.
So through that process, that day — and Trey, let’s have a little fun — I want you to guess. Our campus was called UW Oshkosh. It’s nickname was UW-zero and UW-sloshkosh because we just have a big drinking reputation. It’s terrible, terrible.
So out of 129 people, how many do you think wanted to come to our sober house party?
If I’m taking a shot in the dark, I’m going to say, let’s say 35 people.
35. Ok, yes, ok. That is exactly what we were expecting.
And as the day went on, we got more and more numbers and got more and more excited because the number we ended up with was 120 people saying yes to our sober house parties and giving us their phone numbers.
That’s out of 125 people that you had met that day?
129, yep. So nine people said no, 120 said yes.
We were blown away. We’re like this is ridiculous, these people are lying to us. They’re pranking us. Where are they cameras?
But at that same moment, we’re excited. We’re like well if we have these phone numbers now, we actually have to create this party.
Our first party was in Steve’s little apartment, and it was probably two rooms in this first floor we were on. And even though we had 120 names, we were still kind of skeptical thinking, you know, we know how people are. They say they’re going to do something and they don’t, or they get nervous, find one reason not to and they don’t show up.
So we use his apartment. We bring in, you know, his friend’s a DJ so we have a DJ. We got like a foosball table in there. We’re playing beer pong without beer. I think that’s about it. We had a five-gallon jug of grape Kool-Aid because that’s all we could afford and it’s like $2.50.
That was our party in a nutshell.
And throughout the night, you know, we got ready for the party and then we sent out our text to everybody saying, “Hey, party, you know, 9:00 p.m. until midnight. Here’s the address. Come by. Get ready to party. And of course, it’s sober. Don’t bring your alcohol; you don’t need it.”
And, Steve and I set up post out in the driveway and we’re directing people in. We’re kind of expecting about 30 people to actually show up, but after a while we see droves and droves of students coming to our party. And after a while we’re like oh my god, people are coming and we decide to go into our own party and check it out.
And when we get in there, we open the door, and there is a sea of students. They are crammed in there like sardines. Music’s playing. There’s four people playing foosball, four people playing pong. Someone yells at us, “Hey man, the Kool-Aid’s gone.” Seventy-five or 80 students are just sitting there, they can’t even move to dance. They’re standing there awkwardly, and the party dies within 30 minutes. It’s gone, everybody left and it was the worst party ever.
Steve and I at the end of this looked at each other and said “oh my god, people came to this and we failed. We better get good at this quick, because there’s a demand for something like this on our campus.”
It’s almost like that scene in Jaws, “we’re going to need a bigger boat.”
Well, very cool. So after this first event, it progresses a little more. I’m assuming that you guys get more active on the campus with this, clearly this need that is out there for people who want this kind of party.
Yeah, absolutely. The next steps then for us were — basically we developed partnerships with different students on campus, different clubs, different departments and found out, “Hey, how can Party.0 help you and what you’re doing?”
And what we found out is that Greek Life, fraternities and sororities, they would become a great partner for us. That was because they’d battled this image and this stereotype of you know, just being an organization centered around getting wasted and sexual assault and all these things that unfortunately happen in college and they do happen in Greek Life.
But, Greek Life is such a concentrated group that it’s just amplified. So we offered them like, “Hey, would you like to host one of our parties?”
So that was how we solved not having enough venues or having too small of an apartment. We would take over a fraternity house for a night. They would host the party for us. It could show their members that “hey, we don’t need to drink to have fun.” It could show the campus and the community that fraternity and sorority life is really about service and about being good students, so it gives them an opportunity to showcase that and get some positive press.
So we partnered with them a lot to do that, to increase.
Once our attendance got to about 150 students, which happened very fast, it was actually the second party. So the first one was a disaster, but people liked the idea so much that they actually came back and gave it another shot.
We were able to get sponsors like Red Bull, Papa John’s Pizza, Subway, Insomnia Cookies, Chick-Fil-A. All these places would help us out because they love what we’re doing and they think it’s so unique and needed, so for them to hop on board and help us out was mutually beneficial as well.
So these parties grew until — my top party was 180 students for one of our Halloween parties. And then now as I teach other students to do it, they’re breaking crazy records, having more students than I ever did at their parties.
Man, so it’s almost like you created a franchise for people to kind of takeoff and do what they will with it, huh?
Yeah, that’s a really good way to look at it. That’s absolutely what it is. It’s a model that they can use on their campus. It’s been proven step-by-step what they can do because the students are on their campus and we don’t know it. Being sober, we think we’re the only ones or we don’t know where to find people and you have to create something that brings them out, and that’s what we’ve done basically.
Very cool, man. So, I’m assuming along with the fraternities, Greek life, sororities and then students on campus, this also had to be a great option for people who are in collegiate recovery programs or who are in recovery on campus, right?
Voiceover: Collegiate Recovery Programs are school-sponsored supportive environments located on college campuses for students in recovery. These programs give students in recovery a physical space to socialize, host on-campus support group meetings and receive advising and counseling from recovery specialists.
Absolutely, yeah. We actually worked with the collegiate recovery club at Indiana University last year.
That was really cool because, you know, from their perspective they have their collegiate recovery community and they’re looking for ways to integrate with the campus and share what recovery is.
And I’m sure, too, I’m not in recovery myself, but just being sober throughout college, it is sad watching people go through something that you know could potentially ruin their life, you know what I mean?
So it was so cool to help them create something on their campus that not only was representing what they wanted to do and gave them an outlet to have fun and make new friends, but also to be a voice of the greater campus saying, “Hey, we’re throwing a massive party. You’re all invited and there’s no drugs or alcohol.”
They’re getting press for their collegiate recovery club. They’re getting the word out in a fun way that’s not like preaching or being, I don’t know, however people might perceive as being better than anyone else.
It’s a way that says “hey, I want to invite you to my party, here’s what it’s about.” And to know that 90 percent of students are being receptive to this, like that’s crazy. That’s a really cool tool for them to use to bring more awareness to recovery and have some fun and create something cool on their campus at the same time.
Absolutely. You know, there’s such a stigma with being sober at that young of an age. I think that’s one of the hardest things for people who are young adults is breaking down that barrier that’s created by that stigma. And I think Party.0 is a massive step in killing that stigma, which needs to be eliminated across the country as it is. So props to you my man.
Yeah. Thank you.
So I’m assuming that most of your first events were at Oshkosh, right?
Yes, all mine were. Yep.
After that, how did you start expanding to other universities and colleges across the country?
It started at, you know when I was starting to graduate and on that path and I could see graduation. I started thinking in the lens of “ok, how could I pass this along?”
Actually to rewind a little bit, when I was starting this, I’m a journalism major, and I had a music industry minor. In one of my classes, we had to host a blog. So as I was throwing these parties, I was blogging about it and students from across the country started asking, “How do you throw these parties? This is so cool. I would love to have this on my campus.”
And so I did have that idea that ok I can share this, it’s a good thing. I could actually help people and create a really cool job for myself if I learn how to make this into a business.
And so that started going through my mind, and Steve and I started an LLC to make sure that we were legally accepting sponsors and things like that. It was my very last semester on campus, and I failed math.
And this was so hard for me because at the end of college, I’m ready to be out. I’m ready for the next step, whatever that might be for myself and then all of a sudden, I’ve got to stay for another semester. Spend more money. Spend more time and put my life on hold.
During the semester, my university opened an entrepreneurship program, and I ended up winning over $11,000 of funding for the business.
So it turned out, yeah, it was a huge blessing, a huge gift that you know, I was upset at first for failing math but then I see that this was part of a greater plan.
It was really cool because I got to pour into the business. Help bring the program to different schools like University of Wisconsin in La Crosse and St. Norbert University in Green Bay. That’s also where I started learning business skills.
So from there, I basically learned OK, how do we make a platform so that I could continue spreading this program as my full-time job and, as I like to say, probably can change the world from nine to five instead of trying to change the world five to nine after I’m done with a full day’s work and I want to relax and have a life.
That was the big step and that funding and entrepreneurship program really helped me get started and help spread it to new schools right away and learning OK, here’s how you take a student who knows nothing about it, how to teach them, coach them so that they’re continuing to throw parties on their campus. And that’s how that started.
Very cool. So give me a rundown of places that you’ve been with Party.0. Like what different universities have you gone to?
So it’s kind of scattered. So we did Oshkosh, La Crosse, St. Norbert and Wisconsin.
After the funding we actually, after the entrepreneurship cohort, we actually did a tour where we traveled in this trailer. Four of us traveled in this trailer and would go talk about Party.0 at different schools and if they were ready for it, we would actually throw a party with them.
So we actually threw parties at huge schools. Like Indiana University, that was one of them. And then Southeastern Louisiana University, as well as — oh this was a big one, Mississippi State University. That one was super cool because within a week we basically put together a party with people we had just met.
So those were the only universities that we’ve hit as far as going and helping them host a house party and I’ve been there to see it.
But now it’s working with — I mean I worked with Indiana University again with the campus ministry. I taught them and left and they used the school to throw their party, and they had over 600 students at sober house parties. They had to divide into separate houses it got so big.
Now our motto basically is I realized that if I go into a campus and I come and I throw a party for someone, it’s more likely that when I leave them, they won’t throw another one because I did the work for them. They haven’t learned anything. It’s not in their hands.
So our motto now is actually to go to campuses and do speaking engagements. And this is very, very new, within the last couple months that we’ve made this transition.
How we do it is we come to the campus for a speaking engagement, or any community, and we’ll do a presentation. Show them that this idea is possible. Here are its benefits, here’s how it works. And it’s very inspirational for them to see the impact of this.
And then I actually tell them, “You can create this here. This is not a fluke, this is not an accident. There’s a method to why this works and we’ve found out what it is, and we can teach it to you while we’re here.”
And then we bring those students out to use that model so they can create Party.0 on their campus. So that’s our new model that we’re using and trying out and it’s just a time of transition right now.
That’s fantastic, man. So what’s been your favorite party or experience since you started Party.0?
I think that my favorite would have to be the party at Mississippi State University just because it was such a quick turnaround.
The student leaders that I worked with were so excited to do everything, from getting the word out to getting sponsors. You know, going around and watching their faces as we walk away with a full sponsorship of you know, whether it’s like 200 hundred sandwiches or cookies or whatever and they realize “Whoa, we just went in there, asked them for something and they gave it to us. Like there was no lag time or anything.”
It’s literally ask and you will receive. That’s what they experienced and it was so cool to see that and then to watch them host a party that you know, you never know how it’s going to go. It’s something new. So everyone is really skeptical before they throw their first party.
Many students get scared and they think that they want to quit because they just don’t believe it’s going to work for them. And so to see 200 students pack this house, to see these students dancing like crazy on the porch, having fun and meeting new people out there, playing games, it was so cool to just witness and say “Wow, they did this in a week with our help, and this is how it’s impacting them. Imagine what it’s going to be like in five years.” And to look forward to that and chase that goal and that dream to help more people do it is definitely really rewarding.
Absolutely, man. So give me a quick synopsis — I know you’ve mentioned some of the stuff already — but what do you guys have in the parties usually? You’re talking about sponsorships with awesome food, music, games. Just give me a synopsis of all of that.
What it comes down to is food, fun and friends. That’s what people get into. Number one, they’re going to come for the food. It sounds weird, like free food for anyone.
College students especially, right? College students need free food to eat.
Absolutely. Then when you have it sponsored, it just brings this hype and this excitement to your event.
So that’s number one that brings people in in a way. It says this party is sponsored by Papa John’s and Red Bull, they think it’s awesome and you have that brand recognition behind it that says this is going to be big.
The next part is the fun. You know that’s — like a good question you asked is what makes it fun?
We teach students what games to use at their parties and what games to avoid because you have to create an atmosphere that makes people loosened up, outgoing and fun when they don’t have that liquid courage or that lubricant that they might normally use. So we help them create that atmosphere through specific games, competitions and things like that.
And then the last thing is the friends. That kind of ties into the games and the fun and that party vibe with the DJ and everything.
If they make one friend at that party, that is successful. That is a good experience. Like “I will do that again. I’ll come back; I’ll tell my friends about it and I’ll remember it. I’ll remember it because that’s when I met this person.”
It makes people feel good. It makes people feel wanted.
So we integrate those three areas into our party. But even more importantly as well we integrate it even before they come to the party.
So the way that we teach students to invite other people, that integrates all those three things. The three F’s. The fun, the food and the friends — because we’re personally inviting them and they feel welcomed and like they have a new friend before they even get to the party.
So it’s throughout everything that we do.
Nice, man. That sounds like a great way to bring a bunch of different factors together that ultimately lead to a good time.
It seems simple, right? But it is, it’s a human part of us that’s never going to change. And it just works.
Definitely. So, let’s talk about plans for the future. You’re in Arizona right now you said, right? What are you doing out there?
So my wife and I moved here because we were living in Oshkosh still, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and the nearest affordable airport is about an hour and a half to two hours away and then you have the winter with all the different flight and delays that might happen and driving.
So we decided to move closer to an airport so that as I fly for these speaking engagements and to help out new schools that it would be less of a task, especially since we have just one car that we share.
What we did then was we decided all right, we’re going to move, we’re going to take the leap and do this.
Instead of just moving to that place two hours away we thought, well if we’re moving away from our friends and family, let’s think bigger. Where do we actually want to check out and see and move?
We kind of geeked out and created a spreadsheet on google and listed like all these different cities we could move to and what the benefits were in our eyes.
So we love playing volleyball and hiking and being outside. Arizona had this area where we could head to California for a weekend, hit up Vegas, the Red Rocks. Everything is nearby that we might want to do and their airport is very centrally located, so I don’t have to charge people a lot of money for travel expenses and so it makes me more affordable for people to bring in Party.0.
That was kind of the incentive for that, and it doesn’t hurt that the weather’s beautiful as well.
Absolutely. I live in Florida so I know what you mean. I do not do well in the cold.
Yeah, I know as soon as we got here we’re like there’s no way we can ever go back. We won’t go through another winter again if we don’t have to.
So what are your plans for the future with Party.0? You’re doing speaking engagements and what else?
So our goal is to help students create this entity on their campus.
So recently I did this activity where you did an ideal scene. And I’d recommend it to anybody, looking at what your goals are. As I started with like five years down the line and then I divided into each year what my goals might be.
Just like referencing that, in four years our goal is to have a Party.0 chapter at 55 schools.
Through that, there’s a lot of goals, too. Ok first, we have to reach students who want this and faculty members, staff at universities and get the word out about what we’re doing, so then we can transfer into a speaking engagement or just a student reaching out and saying, “Hey, I can’t do a speaking engagement but I want to start the club.”
So we’ll help them start the club even if we can’t do that speaking engagement right away.
So 55 Party.0 organizations around the country.
And having these students, that’s what we want because the story of me starting this organization is really inspirational but what students really want is to hear how somebody like them took this idea and ran with it.
The stories that I tell of Chris, who took over at Oshkosh after me. Zack, who runs it now. The students at Indiana University who got 600 students to their party, and all these different stories of people doing it better than me. I want to create more of that and a platform that brags on them and they can brag about a life of sobriety and saying, “This is all possible because I was different. Because I didn’t just follow what everyone else was doing and I created the life that I wanted.”
So for me I think that’s the big picture is to spread to more schools.
And then I have this other dream that maybe one day, that there would be a Party.0 house at different campuses much like a fraternity or sorority house that was designated for those student leaders to live in with a few friends and then could host parties throughout the year and get really creative so that on a moment’s notice they could have people over. Send out to their text list, “Hey, we’re watching the game tonight, just come on by and this company is going to bring us some wings or whatever.”
Very cool, man. So Jake if people want to get in contact with you or learn more about Party.0, where can they go?
The best one is to hit up our website which is Party0.org, the number key zero, not spelled out. So that’s Party0.org is our website and I mean you can fill out the contact form, you can check out our blog. We’re starting a YouTube channel, so links to that will be on there.
And then, one thing that I really encourage everyone to do who is in college who might be listening is to hit up our Facebook group, which is sober college students. There are students from Wisconsin and Michigan and California and all over who are starting to join this. It’s very, very new.
But we’re trying to create a central place for students who are sober in college can talk about what’s going on on campus that they like, dislike, how they can help each other and things like that.
So that’s spelled sober college students and it’s a Facebook group.
Well, Jake, I appreciate you taking your time to be with us today to tell our listeners about Party.0. We wish the best for you here at DrugRehab.com and hopefully in the future, you guys might be able to come throw a sober party with us down here.
Absolutely. Thank you, Trey.
All right, take care Jake.
Voiceover: To find out more about Jake and Party.0, visit www.DrugRehab.com. Thanks for tuning in to another episode of recovery. For DrugRehab.com, I’m Trey Dyer.
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