Wearing the Hat with Club President Phoebe Alva

by Bella Taylor March 18, 2024 12 min read

“Wearing the Hat” is a series where staff writer Bella Taylor showcases the incredible people in the Isla Vista community and all the “hats” they choose to wear as they bring their passions to life. 

Phoebe wearing the Isla Vista Cord Cap

Phoebe Alva is a 22-year-old UCSB student from Orange County, CA, double majoring in Psychology and Acting. She’s on the pursuit of living out her best life for herself and aids others in doing the same for themselves through her club known as Gauchos for Ending Overdose. A cause that hits very close to both mine and Phoebe’s hearts, getting the chance to sit down and talk about overdose prevention in our college community was rewarding and fulfilling, especially hearing all about how Phoebe has grown into who she is today as 
both Club President and an aspiring actress. To no surprise here, we opened up our conversation with a couple ice breakers to start: 

What is one item on your bucket list? 

PA: That’s actually probably the hardest question because I don’t have a bucket list but I answered this question over the holidays with my family and my sister was right next to me and I was just thinking about how we’re both getting older and I would love to just see my sister have a family and to be with her through that. I think that would be really special. 

What is something that you truly value about yourself? 

PA: Since becoming an actor in the BFA here, I have really started to rediscover my curiosity and my creativity. I think a lot of us are trained away from that, going through formal education, and I was also really inspired by my brother, who is an artist, to tap into my creativity. Just the ability to play and make art is something that I value in other people so when I feel that coming out in myself, I think that’s just very cool. 

What is a day or moment in your life that you’d like to relive?

PA: Probably really far back in my childhood. I have really fond memories of just spending time with my family and playing with my brother in the living room and making skits. So, probably just going back to being 6 years old and playing with my siblings on Christmas Eve. I have all these wonderful, warm feelings about it now. I’m a very nostalgic person so I want to go back and see “How was it actually?” 

Go-to Freebird’s order? 

PA: This is a very weird order because I’m vegan so I get the nachos with no cheese, both types of beans, every kind of vegetable. The toppings are the best part so I just get all of those and a million limes as my order. It’s very specific because I love Freebirds. 

What exactly is Gauchos for Ending Overdose? 

PA: GFEO is a student-run organization that the Overdose Prevention Peers at Gauchos for Recovery formed to allow student volunteers to get involved with our mission. GFR is the on-campus harm reduction and recovery program so we’re through the Alcohol and Drug Program here through Student Health.

There are 2 sections of GFR: there’s the Harm Reduction Overdose Prevention Peerss and then there’s also the recovery peers. So many people want to volunteer with the OPP’s but we can only hire so many people, so we made GFEO an organization this year so volunteers can come and get involved and so far, it’s been really successful. We make overdose prevention kits together and we learn about harm reduction and recovery so it’s just a community of people with a like-minded passion for harm reduction and ending overdose. 

What was the process of you becoming president of this club and how did you get into volunteering/working with Gauchos for Recovery in the first place?

PA: Me and my boss, Angie, decided a while ago that this org should be a thing so we could invite student volunteers into the program so me and the other OPPs just applied for it to be an organization on campus. And even though we have titles, it’s pretty much a split job between the 3 of us Board Members so we’re all kind of like the 3 presidents of it and we all run it pretty equally. I was walking through the SRB one day my sophomore year, like the first week I think, and I saw a sign that said, “Free Narcan at Embarcadero Hall” so I emailed them and that same day, I saw a job on Handshake as an Overdose Prevention Peer for GFR and I immediately applied. I was basically begging, I was like, “Please, I need this job, I want this job more than anything in the whole world.” Angie was so kind and she welcomed me in and I found out it was the first OPP job here, ever. She was just starting the program so I got to help invent the program alongside her. There were no job specifications other than “you get this amount of hours, this much a week, do what you can to prevent overdoses” and so I formed the program and it evolves everyday to be something new and bigger. 

Phoebe’s motive behind her work is something that should truly be recognized and celebrated. She serves as a reminder of how important it is to give back to our community and live life in a way that truly honors our values. Phoebe expands more on this unique aspect of her personal life that fuels her passion behind this kind of work: 

“In July of 2021, I lost my big brother, Tristan Alva, to an accidental overdose and he passed away that night. It was a big awakening for me because I didn’t realize what he was experiencing, I didn’t realize that he was struggling with substance addiction, I didn’t know he was at risk at all for an overdose. I had a rocky relationship with my brother. We would always bud-heads but we also had the deepest understanding of each other more than anyone in my family and we were just, sort of, turning a point between the fighting stage, you know, coming closer together. I just felt like I was hit over the head with this event. There’s no going back from that, you can’t reverse it, you can’t fix it. I made it my mission to educate myself on overdose and harm reduction to help others avoid what I experienced from losing my brother. I started learning about harm reduction and overdose prevention and when I got here and learned about GFR and started working here, I’ve just learned so much and feel like I’m able to honor my brother every day by helping people learn about this information. Again, I had no idea what the signs were of addiction, or substance use, or someone struggling. I knew he was struggling, but I didn’t know the extent and so I feel like I’m able to teach people what to look for because even if you aren't struggling with substance use, you never know when your brother is, or your best friend is, or your parent is, or your roommate is. So just being able to look for the signs in other people is one of the most important reasons for doing the work I do. So, yeah, my brother is the reason I do what I do.” 

The artwork that goes into Gauchos for Ending Overdose holds significant meaning. Do you mind touching on where you got the idea to incorporate your brother’s art into the club and what that means to you as you see this vision come to life? 

PA: My brother is an artist and he was 1 semester away from graduating from Cal Arts for Experimental Animation. He was an artist for his whole life. I’ve never known someone who was destined to do something the way that he was destined to be an artist. That was it, he was just the most incredible artist in the world. He could conjure up the most incredible piece of artwork you’ve ever seen in your life in 30 seconds without even thinking about it. He did all kinds of art, too. Filmmaking, pottery, stop motion, animation. One of the most heartbreaking things about him passing away was that people wouldn’t get to see his art unless it was shown to them in some way. So, I approached Angie about using his artwork to make stickers for GFR and she loved that idea. She’s just the best. She founded GFR 11 years ago now, which was just so ahead of its time. She started to help make merch using ideas that I had shown her in the past and being like, “Look, I made this tote bag with your brother’s artwork!” and so it grew into a lot more and his artwork started to be a partial face for GFR and so, starting GFEO, I knew I wanted his artwork to be in it still because there’s just so much. There are hundreds of thousands of pictures that he’s drawn and if I can use just 10 of them to advertise a harm reduction meeting on Instagram, I will. His artwork is everywhere, it’s all over Isla Vista and on campus because people take the stickers and put them everywhere and that just fills me up so much, seeing that others get to see his work even though he’s no longer able to show them himself. 

While Phoebe gives much credit to GFEO’s Secretary and Treasurer for their club’s success, Phoebe’s responsibilities are specific to her role as president as she handles the administrative side of emailing and scheduling the organization’s quarterly meetings, one of which involves narcan kit making and the other in which a guest speaker is invited to chat about harm reduction and overdose prevention to the club. Phoebe also helps organize the meetings, make the Instagram posts, and maintain the bridge between Gauchos for Recovery and GFEO. 

What are you most proud of yourself for when it comes to your contribution to recovery and carrying on your brother’s legacy ? 

PA: I am most proud of our ability to reach people who didn’t know about this otherwise through lot of talks that we give and a lot of people we give narcan trainings to. My favorite trainings are to people who don’t have any idea what this is or think that they don’t need it and I’m just like, “What if you do need it and you just don’t know it yet, it would be so awesome to just have.” Because that was me, and I wish that I had the information that I have now, 3 years ago. I think being able to reach new people is what I’m the most proud of and of course, that’s also carrying on my brother’s legacy. That is the reason that I wake up every day, that’s the reason I’m still in school, that’s the reason why I work my job, and that’s the reason that I’m an artist and an actor. It’s all 100% for him. 

What would you like people to know about recovery, addiction, or overdose?

PA: Substance use and addiction can be really isolating and a lot of people feel like they don’t have anyone to talk to about it. I want people to know that Gauchos for Recovery is a safe place for people to come and be with other peers who are experiencing similar things. You can always direct message me, you can DM Gauchos for Recovery, or GFEO. This is a safe space and we have materials to support you in whatever way that means. We are here to meet you where you are, and any positive change is a good thing, whether that’s carrying narcan to a party, coming to a meeting, or seeking recovery in any way that means to you. I always say, to go out at night you need 3 things: narcan, your ID and lipgloss. You have so many people here to support you and that’s a beautiful thing. 

Is recovery work still in your future after UCSB? If not, what else would you like to do career-wise? 

PA: Definitely. I’m an actress and that’s kind of my dream so I’m planning on pursuing work as an actor and also, I plan on going to an area or city, probably Los Angeles, where I can continue working in harm reduction. Like I said, that’s kind of what I feel is my life mission at this point, is to continue doing harm reduction work. That’s my number one goal, so whatever I do, is in some way to supplement that. I plan on always using my platform to promote harm reduction and recovery. I would love to continue serving this cause for as long as I’m physically able to. 

How do you think Isla Vista has shaped you into who you are today and does that contribute to Gauchos for Ending Overdose in any way?

PA: Coming to college, I was a completely different person, like, completely. Everything about being in Isla Vista and going to UCSB has changed me in so many ways. I am so, so grateful to be here and working for GFR. I feel like I have been able to design a life that feels very fulfilling to me and that I really enjoy. I think that I’ve become more knowledgeable and more empathetic since doing this work and more creative and just gained a much bigger perspective than I had before. Especially growing up in Orange County, it’s a bubble, and now I feel like I am so much more connected to the community and the world around me. Also, the people that I’ve met; I’ve managed to meet the most incredible people and formed the most wonderful communities. Everything that I’ve experienced here has changed me and I think that’s ultimately led me to open up this group of student volunteers for GFEO, to allow other people who are wanting to find this community as well to grow from, and to continue this mission that I’ve discovered while I was here. 

Favorite spot in IV?

PA: I love Sands beach. In the summer, I went every single day and I would just sit alone for hours and journal. I love journaling, so anywhere that I can be alone with the sound of the ocean, I love. I love my house. I have the most incredible housemates and we have a little dog named Elphie and all my housemates are so amazing. They’re all artists so it’s just covered in artwork and someone’s always cooking something delicious. I could sit in my house for the rest of my life, I never want to leave. 

Do you have any other hobbies, interests, or ways you spend your time aside from running this club? 

PA: I have many. I spend most of my time in the theater. I love that, I love working in theatre and working on films. I also love creating artwork. I do a lot of paintings that I’m not good at, I just like getting it out. I journal a lot. I love writing poetry and just any sort of thing that I can do with my hands. I’ve started embroidering and crocheting. I was in the band Lemon Generation as their bass player but I had to stop because theater takes up so much of my time but I really love music and playing bass. I love cooking, I’m vegan so I cook every single day. It’s like my stress relief to come home and make something. I love playing in the ocean with my friends. 

What is something you can’t wait to do in the future? 

PA: I just kind of want to be old and settled into a home that has a big garden and I want to live on a commune with my sister and best friends and have some animals and just sit around. There’s so much I want to do in the middle but I am excited for the day that nothing else matters and I can just hang out. 

As Phoebe is reaching her graduation date, she may be turning that last page in her story as club president shortly as her time is slowly reaching its end. However, Phoebe still has high hopes for the future of Gauchos for Ending Overdose as she explains more here: 

“I would love to see this club continue to grow. The Overdose Prevention peers at Gauchos for Recovery has only existed for 3 years now, and it’s already grown so much in a way that makes me so happy and I would love to see that happen for this group too. I would love to see more students on campus become aware of these resources and I think as long as 5 people are interested, then that’s a great thing.”

Generation Recovery is Gauchos for Recovery’s annual art and music festival that features many different thrift vendors, IV music groups, artists, and other student organizations supporting the goal of harm reduction and overdose prevention in our community. Island View Outfitters helped in the production and printing of t-shirts featuring Tristan Alva’s very own artwork in an effort to help raise awareness about the cause and further tribute Phoebe’s older brother. Phoebe comments that she “wanted to make a shirt that someone would wear rather than a shirt to promote a program through student health,” and she wholeheartedly believes they achieved that as she continues to see others wearing the custom-made t-shirts all around IV. 

To get involved in this vital organization at UCSB, Phoebe recommends following @gauchosforendingoverdose and @gauchosforrecovery on Instagram to volunteer to table on campus, get connected to other Overdose Prevention Peers, and follow along with their upcoming narcan kit building meetings. She also recommends hitting up her email to get yourself or your organization trained to administer narcan. 

Phoebe Alva’s outlook on life in IV has positively shaped what is now her memorable college journey here at UCSB as a trusted Overdose Prevention Peer, talented actress, and inspiring Club President. She has accomplished countless achievements through her dedication to this field of work, all in thanks to her empathetic heart and her commendable mission to honor Tristan’s memory by preventing others from the harms of overdose. Her performance, whether it’s on stage or in our neighborhood, does not go unnoticed and as a Gaucho, I am so thankful to have gotten to know Phoebe and Tristan Alva through Gauchos for Ending Overdose.

Thank you, Phoebe.

Bella Taylor
Bella Taylor

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