By Sarah Huber for LONGMONT MAGAZINE
In a season of isolation, Recovery Café Longmont is daily affirming, virtually and when feasible, mask to mask, that every person is worthy of giving and receiving love. A source of refuge and healing for people of all backgrounds struggling with addiction, mental health, homelessness and frankly, the myriad challenges of life, Recovery Café is “a place of support and stability for anyone seeking to break the cycle of destruction and despair,” said Recovery Café executive director Lisa Searchinger. “We offer a warm space with no judgement and with loving accountability and radical hospitality. Everyone is welcome.”
That welcoming atmosphere is foundational to supporting people in need of a home or employment and those developing positive mental health. Since opening in May of 2019, Recovery Café has provided nearly 3,000 nutritious meals, along with encouraging conversation around the café’s open table, hosted more than 100 recovery discussion circles and classes and welcomed more than 270 unique guests, 102 of whom became members.
While during the pandemic Recovery Café’s virtual support has been well-received, the café usually centers around a communal table, and those who attend regularly are asked to become members. Searchinger explained, “Being a member is really important to our members and one of the first places they’ve belonged. Membership requires three things: First, you attend your weekly recovery circle (which is not therapy but where we get to know each other on a deeper level, make goals and hold each other accountable); second, you are substance-free for 24 hours (we follow the honor system); and third, you give back in some way, such as helping around the café.”
For Andrew Spidle, the Recovery’s Café’s longest-running member, membership has provided a community of friends and an outlet to serve others. He helped lead the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at Recovery Café until COVID-19 pushed support online, and Searchinger said Spindle is often the first to offer visitors a tour of the café or a cup of coffee. He said, “Before I was coming to the café, my mental health state wasn’t the greatest because I was isolating in my one-bedroom apartment. The café to me is a great place to sit with like-minded people that are in the same boat that you are and have been through the same things you’re going through, and they can help you figure out what your next step is.” When not in lock-down, he said, “We serve a hot meal, and this may be the only meal that anyone ever gets for the day.”
With her team, Searchinger launched Recovery Café after Central Longmont Presbyterian Church, where Recovery Café meets, expressed interest in the national network (Recovery Café was started in Seattle in 2004 and is not associated with any religion). Then the director of H.O.P.E., or Homeless Outreach Providing Encouragement, in Longmont, Searchinger caught Recovery’s Café vision as a vital support for those on the edge. She asked, “If you’ve been in treatment, where do you go on day 31? You go back to the triggers and community that was causing your addiction in the first place.”
Searchinger continued, “We know that so many people who struggle with substances also struggle with traumatic events, mental health, divorce. Life is not easy; mental health and substance abuse know no socio-economic boundaries, and we all know someone personally who struggles with one or both – and both lead to homelessness.”
Lisa Bechard, an ambassador with Recovery Café and a member of Central Longmont Presbyterian, said Recovery Café “is not a place to just come and take. It is a place to engage and be involved.” She added, “I love the honesty and realness of the members and the wiliness for them to involved in their own recovery as well as supporting other members journey. This is a welcoming, warm, supportive and enriching environment.”
The bittersweet part of the Recovery Café journey is that many members, as they meet their goals and achieve success, reconnect with family and move out of the county to a more affordable housing situation. “They have the results to help them be independent, and we’re grateful to be a part of that,” Searchinger said.
Once Recovery Café is able to facilitate in-person gatherings again, Searchinger hopes to intensify her outreach to Spanish speakers and offer more recovery circles and classes (such as contemplative crochet, grief and loss classes, yoga, art and music). “One in five Americans struggles with mental health, and Longmont is no exception,” she said.
In the meantime, Recovery Café continues to extend virtual support six days a week. Searchinger noted, “We’ve long known COVID’s impact on the human body. We are now learning its impact on our mental health, as one-third of Americans report clinically significant symptoms of depression and anxiety. Social isolation, mass unemployment and uncertainty are driving unprecedented rates of suicide and overdose. Our services are needed now more than ever.”
Visit recoverycafelongmont.org to learn more or to donate to the nonprofit.