Nestled in a cul-de-sac in downtown San Jose behind San Jose City Hall sits Recovery Café. Although on church grounds, Recovery Café is a non-denominational, 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that has its roots in Seattle.
One Friday, I visited Recovery Café and met with Tadashi Oguchi, Director of Programs and Community Outreach. Tadashi and I are fellow board members of another nonprofit organization, and when he first told our board that he worked at Recovery Café, it piqued my interest.
The café rents its space from a church and resides in its former recreational room. With high ceilings with beams and large windows, it's a welcoming space with a warm feeling. Chairs and tables line the large open space, kind of like a restaurant, also with a kitchen area in the back. The front desk area has a moss wall with the words, "a place to grow" on it.
Recovery Café is a sober supportive and social community for those who are in recovery. "In a sense, I think everyone's going through some sort of recovery," Tadashi told me. The members mostly consist of those who are recovering from addiction, homelessness, and mental health challenges, but all are welcome.
Recovery Café started in Seattle, and the San Jose location followed. Now, there are 46 locations nationwide and one in Vancouver, Canada.
The San Jose location is open weekdays, 10AM to 4PM. Brunch and lunch are served free of charge to members. Other than the café portion, there are personal professional development classes through the School for Recovery, which are 8-week courses held four times a year. Students can attend classes on everything from handling trauma, art and music, and communication skills.
There are opportunities to be hired on as staff at the café and support to other members by going through Peer Mentor Training, where they're trained on empathy, communication, and learning about the resources the community can provide. The café currently serves about 165 members, with about 75 members daily on average. Other than the classes, they have open mic days, a walking club, jam sessions, and even gardening classes. To become and stay a member, folks just have to follow three things: 1. Be sober and clean for 24 hours. 2. Attend the orientation and weekly recovery support groups. 3.Give back to the café. This can be anything from wiping tables or stacking chairs to mopping down the floors.
"Outside of this café, people are often stereotyped. But here, people know them by names," Tadashi said. He often stopped our conversation to say hi and chat with the members that came in. They all seemed comfortable, asking Tadashi questions about the schedule for the day or telling him how they're feeling. "My favorite thing about this place is seeing the growth of our members. First timers are often in their shell. They don't make eye contact and they sometimes don't even want to write their real names down when they register, because some of them, not even their families know of their situation. But they start coming out of their shells after a while."
Tadashi's background is in medicine. He originally went to medical school, but he wanted to go into preventive medicine, so he got into nutrition. He originally got asked to teach a culinary class for the School of Recovery at the café. There, he felt a sense of fulfillment that he never really felt before. He felt welcome. He eventually got hired on as the Culinary and Nutrition Coordinator before moving into programs.
Some walls of Recovery Café are lined with hand drawn drawings of the members with their story. A local watercolor artist, Suhita, comes in from time to time to talk to the members to tell their stories. The results are the"Faces of Recovery" portraits that line the wall. The portraits are also lent out to local coffee shops, a step towards the café's hope to destigmatize the stereotypes of those in need. "We want to put a face to recovery and build empathy in the community," Tadashi explained while I took some time to read some of the portraits.
Asked about the future of Recovery Café, Tadashi told me they would be having a sober night market next May, where they'll display and sell art by the members of those who are in recovery. With San Jose State University being so close by, I asked Tadashi if he sees any future collaborations with them. "That would be great. It would be great if we can bring in a college class that can be taught in the Café." But he says privacy is a big thing at the Café. As mentioned earlier, some members have family members who are unaware of their situations and bringing in outside folks from the community is always something they have to be extra careful about. In the future though, he hopes for the community to be more welcoming of others, to erase or decrease the stigma for those who are struggling due to any reason. He hopes the Faces of Recovery will reach public libraries and schools in the future for a bigger audience to see.
I think we’ve all had some sort of experience or encounter with those who are in need of help, of course including myself. Walking the city streets, we've all been guilty of averting your eyes away from them. Working in downtown Los Angeles, I’ve waited for someone to press the crosswalk button on the other side because on my side, there was someone screaming to themselves. Tadashi mentioned that the county (Santa Clara in our case) does a great job of acute care but not really with the long term or community support that comes after it. What good is care if it’s temporary? What I saw at Recovery Café was that while progression to recovery is not always a straight line, it’s proof that small steps, whether it be social interaction, as something as small as someone calling you by your name, or learning a new skill, like how to make a latte, or even just improving your communication skills can be a big step in the right direction to recovery.
Learn more about Recovery Café San Jose here: https://recoverycafesj.org/
(All photos shared here have been shared with permission from Recovery Café and the members shown in the photos.)
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