Come to the New Day Recovery Café on a Friday around 5 pm, and you’ll find a space filled with friends and music and laughter. Today two pots of lentil stew are warming on the café’s stovetop, and on the counter are salad and fresh bread. Nearly every one of the café’s chairs are full.
Lunch with friends at the Recovery Café
Just before the lids are lifted from the stew pots, the room quiets when Mary Uri, one of the driving forces behind the café’s opening, starts the pre-dinner tradition. “Does everyone want to share what they’re thankful for,” she asks, “or anything that stood out about their day?” One person says, “I spent the whole day feeling stoked.” Another, who recently finished a six-month treatment program, says, “I’m thankful I get to come home and have this place here.” Then Mary calls for five minutes of silence—five minutes to relish in thanks and let go of everything else. “You can dance if you want to,” she says, “but quietly.” After, the room fills with the sounds of clanking plates and utensils—and the loud chatter of the cafe family.
When asked to describe the café, Mary says, “Everyone is recovering from something.” Outside the café, people are divided by their differences: substance abuse, mental illness, trauma, and everyday struggles like anger and expectations. But inside the café, they’re united by their desire to heal and grow—and to support their peers.
One of the major tenants of the New Day Recovery Café, a Seattle-based program on which our local café is modeled, is that it’s peer run. “It’s not about sharing the exact issues as your peers,” staff member Diana Porter says. “It’s about understanding. We’re all working through challenges.” From this understanding comes compassion—which is essential to another major tenant of the café: the healing circle.
Imagine sitting with a small group of friends in a cozy place. You haven’t known these friends long, but you trust them and they trust you. You share your struggles with them, and they ask if you want feedback. They share their struggles with you, and you listen with care. The more you learn about one another, the more you know what the other is capable of, so you encourage each other. You remind each other you are not alone. This is the heart of the healing circle. This is one hour each week spent in a safe space where you feel seen and heard. “It feels like I’m doing less of life on my own,” one café regular says.
Before the café opened, staff at the Family Resource Center, the parent organization of the Recovery Café, debated whether to remove the word “recovery” from its name. “People are afraid of that word,” Mary says. “But hiding the word adds to the problem. The best way to end the stigma is to put it out there.”
After dinner on Friday night, the people who’ve gathered around the broad café table drift into small groups. One person, who washes the dinner dishes, is here for the first time. Another, who dries them, congratulates her on coming. Members make sure she knows about the café’s weekly activities: a Spanish-language-focused space on Monday, lunch and a healing circle on Tuesday, a walking group on Thursday morning, a journaling group and a healthy cooking class on Thursday afternoon, and a healing circle and dinner on Friday night.
Journaling with perspective at the Recovery Café
“It’s a safe space when you need it,” staff member Adriana Gonzalez says of the cafe. But it’s also a space for learning and connecting. During a recent cooking class, teacher Cintya Churape shows a cup of shredded carrots and a cup of minced red onion for tuna sandwiches—but pauses to mention her family’s recipe for tea: minced red onion and honey steeped in boiling water. “It’s perfect if you have a cold or the flu,” she says.
Six months ago, the Recovery Café opened on the upper floor of the new storefronts adjacent to the co-op and bakery. Staff were worried no one would come. Now they’re worried there won’t be enough food. There’s always enough food, which is often donated by Green Beat Kitchen and volunteers, and plenty of fresh coffee, which is donated by 13 Ravens and Sweet Retreat. When asked how the space has changed since it opened, one café regular says, “The café hasn’t changed. I’ve changed.”
People unfamiliar with the café often ask what it’s like inside. Two tall tables pushed together and a small table nearby fill most of the café’s main space, along with a few cupboards and a long, metal buffet table where meals are laid. Off the main space is a small room with soft chairs where healing circles happen, along with journaling and private reflections. But the most essential part of the space is the people—and the hope, possibility, and heart they bring. “What we’re really about,” Diana says, “is connection.”
Four half-days a week, the Recovery Café is open to any adult looking for a free meal and support of friends. There is no cost to come, and there’s no pressure to become a member, which is also a free process but a step that shows your commitment to yourself and the café family to heal. Being a member also allows you to join one of the two healing circles. As one café member says, “I count on myself being here. It’s part of my weekly plan for recovery.”
In the months to come, café staff hope to offer more activities that respond to the needs of its members and visitors. Some ideas are a self-care class for mothers, a budget class, and a smart-goals class. Staff are also inviting locals groups to visit in hopes of building connection between the café and the wider island community. “It’s hard to describe the space,” Diana says. “You don’t really understand how it feels until you walk in.”
On a small wipe-off board in the main space is a list of daily chores and names of the people who’ve volunteered to do them. Alongside the chore list, in bright red marker, is the quote of the day: “May the rest of your week be full of joy.”
To create a safe space for everyone, the New Day Recovery Café is open to adults who’ve been free of drugs and alcohol for 24 hours. The café is open:
Monday (Spanish-language emphasis): 9 am–noon
Tuesday: 10 am–5 pm
Thursday: 1 pm–5 pm
Friday: 3 pm–7 pm
For a list of current activities, please visit the Family Resource Center’s website at https://sjifrc.org/ or its Facebook page. You can also contact the San Juan Island New Day Recovery Café at (360) 472-2282 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or better yet—stop by 777 Mullis Street and say hello!
To volunteer to cook a meal for café guests, you can sign up through Meal Train at https://www.mealtrain.com/trains/5v4k4w.