As the walls go up, a community is built


The Recovery Cafe stands half-built on the corner of Kearney and Blaine streets in Port Townsend.

With one wall partially built and stacks of lumber waiting to be installed, the cafe’s doors are not yet open to the public. But the mission of the cafe — to provide services and community gathering to those in recovery from addiction, homelessness, mental health issues and other life challenges — began long before construction crews broke ground.

“It’s a relationship-building thing,” said Ben Casserd, an Americorps volunteer.

Casserd is reaching out to the homeless and those in recovery from addiction to let them know what resources are available now and giving them referrals to empower, not enable them.

“Sometimes all anyone needs is someone to listen to them,” he said, “to show up and get to know them.”

Casserd is one of many Recovery Cafe advisory committee members helping plan what the cafe might look like.

The advisory committee started out as a group of local community members who wanted to help Dove House Advocacy Services launch the Recovery Cafe program in Port Townsend.

While part of Dove House’s mission included purchasing and remodeling a building to house the cafe — where free meals and coffee could be served while Recovery Circle classes take place and advocates are available to help those in need — the other part of the mission involved designing Port Townsend-specific recovery programs.

“One of the key things in the Recovery Cafe is what’s called a ‘Recovery Circle,’” said Robert Komishane, an advisory committee member. Recovery Circles create a community of people who can rely on one another for help.

“For 43 years I had a severe mental illness, which I have recovered from,” Komishane said. “People recovering from any kind of trauma, often they’ve been isolated by their condition.”

Komishane is not alone on the advisory committee. Each member is in recovery of some form or another — whether from drug or alcohol addiction, homelessness, mental health issues, trauma from assault or something else — and while they’ve been building an idea of what the Recovery Cafe will look like once it’s open, they’ve been simultaneously building a recovery network among themselves.

By holding a Recovery Circle, the group can test out the methods used at other Recovery Cafes.

“We’ve been doing it as practice to get used to it,” Komishane said. “After some time, we’ve become very close with one another.”

For Brian Richardson, who is leading the Recovery Cafe effort with Dove House Advocacy Services, the advisory committee’s willingness to jump in and help, while also opening up with one another, surpassed his expectation for what the program would be.

“There were times when I would become frustrated with the progress of the building construction,” he said. “But then we’d have 10 to 12 people sitting in a Recovery Circle together and I would realize, even though we don’t have our building ready yet, we’re actually doing it right now in this moment.”

This Recovery Circle model, in which a group of people opens up to each other and supports one another, is what has made other Recovery Cafes around the state successful.

“It’s about having a safe place to come, and having responsibility to maintain sobriety,” Komishane said.

The Recovery Cafe Network started in Seattle, when one opened in Belltown in 2004. The network helps communities build their own versions of the original cafe by supporting organizations such as Dove House with funding and program materials to help those in recovery.

Eventually, the Recovery Cafe in Port Townsend will look on the inside a bit like a coffee shop. But the cafe will offer much more than coffee.

Members of the Recovery Cafe must be sober for at least 24 hours, attend a Recovery Circle peer-led group meeting once a week and contribute to the community.

The Recovery Cafe advisory committee here has been working to create a Jefferson County-specific version of the statewide model.

“The ideas of what we could do have been exponential,” said Kat Zecca, another committee member. Zecca is reaching out to veterans who have been affected by the trauma of being in the military and need a place to feel safe and talk peer-to-peer.

Komishane, on the other hand, is forming a free holistic health clinic at the cafe so people who might not have health insurance can benefit from the many naturopathic and alternative medicine resources available in the community.

In January, Richardson and the advisory committee participated in a four-day Recovery Cafe Coach Academy Training. Since then, there have been monthly training sessions to prepare the volunteers for leading their own Recovery Circles and providing services to those in need.

And while the committee has been organizing what will be available once the doors are open, construction workers are creating a space that will be bright, airy, welcoming and warm.

“We want to make this space beautiful,” Richardson said, “so when someone walks in, it says, ‘You matter to us.’”

The coronavirus pandemic put a stop to construction for about a month, but the governor’s easing of construction restrictions means work can begin again.

As construction resumes, Recovery Circles have gone virtual.

“We are holding two virtual Recovery Circles per week,” Richardson said. “With physical distancing, communication in general is a challenge, but we were surprised to find that, for some people, video conferencing technology actually increased access to services because they did not have to arrange transportation or because they felt safer emotionally to be in the comfort of their own home.”

In addition to virtual Recovery Circles, the cafe provides recovery check-ins by phone for about 30 people.

“A lot of folks are struggling,” Richardson said. “Isolation is the opposite of what many people do to maintain recovery, and while telehealth is better than nothing, it’s no substitute for being in person.”

The pandemic has also required the advisory committee to rethink how the Cafe will open in the coming months.

“Nobody knows what the world will look like next week, let alone next month, so we’re reflecting on a multi-stage opening beginning with virtual services like we are now, perhaps followed by curbside meal service, then possibly outdoor Recovery Circles and meals and indoor services when appropriate,” Richardson said. “At every turn, we will rely heavily on our board of directors and advisory committee to help us make these decisions, asking ourselves always, ‘What is the most loving thing we can do?’”