“Recovery Café DC” by Kim Montroll

The 3rd Sunday in Lent

March 20, 2022

Good morning, it is such a joy to be with you all. I’d like to read these words again from Isaiah 55:

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
    listen, so that you may live.

In this time of Lent, as we hunger to trust God more deeply…I’d like to work with the question – what helps us heal from “spending for that which is not bread, from laboring for that which does not satisfy…”

In his book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, Dr. Gabor Mate – a leading physician in trauma, addiction and mental health – describes the Buddhist teaching about the hungry ghost realm, where the inhabitants are depicted as “creatures with scrawny necks, small mouths, emaciated limbs and large boated empty bellies.’ He names this is the domain of addiction, where we constantly seek something outside of ourselves to curb an insatiable yearning for relief or fulfillment. The aching emptiness is perpetual because the substances, objects or pursuits we hope will sooth it are not what we really need,” and can never fill our deepest need.

Almost five years ago, in Bread of Life community, always holding these truths.. not just as individuals, but as a community, we were deepening our relationships with Donald and Jacqueline Conerly and their Living Word Christian Ministries Church in SE DC. We heard with awe their profound call to create a healing response in their Ward 8 community.

Our dominant culture is all about “spending for that which is not bread, and laboring for that which does not satisfy…” and we all see the fruits of that – extreme racial wealth gaps, profound racial, health and environmental equity gaps. Just one example of many – a 2018 DC Health Equity Report showed a life expectancy gap of 21 years between Woodley Park in NW (89 year life expectancy) and a Ward 8 neighborhood (68 years life expectancy)..and the report was clear, this was the direct result of historic structures of racism. 21 years.

From years of relationship, Bread of Life community was called to serve as midwives for Donald and Jacqueline’s call.

We were called to accompany and support the call & vision God had given Donald and Jacqueline for a healing place, serving people in the Ward 8 community in a way that would respond to deepest needs… those going to the methadone clinic, staying at 801 East Men’s shelter and Calvary Women’s Shelter…those who one way or another have been written off by modern day Pharaoh to a life of struggle.

Together we asked…Where will the resources come from? Where will this be located? What will the programs include? We didn’t know the answers to these and the many questions that would emerge. But we were called to this journey of walking together, trusting God in a new way.

That was almost 5 years ago. What has happened since then?

  • Jacqueline and Donald discerned – the kind of healing community they were called to create needed to be grounded in recovery – recovery from addictions and other mental health challenges. Recovery from trauma, returning from incarceration, homelessness.
  • This sure sounded a lot like the healing Recovery Café model that our dear friend Killian, and others, had birthed in Seattle, and were helping groups around the country to birth in their own cities and towns.
  • Jacqueline & Donald had a zoom call with Killian in Seattle that left them excited and sensing the Recovery Café model may be a fit for their vision.
  • They and Jimmy Marsh headed to Recovery Café’s training in Seattle in April 2018, along with other groups from around the US.
  • They came back super clear – the Recovery Café model was the structure that fits what their vision and dream had been for so long.
  • Its surreal to think of what God has made possible since then.

I want to share a bit about Jacqueline and Donald for those who may not know them. They are long-time Ward 8 community leaders, leading spiritual support groups for years in SE along with the groups that Gordon and others were gathering at the Festival Center at that time.  

Jacqueline was born and raised in a housing project in Ward 8. As a child, her family got to know to know Gordon and Mary, and Terry Flood and C of S community. After 20 years military service, and a lunch conversation with Gordon and Terry, she joined Jubilee Job’s staff, served as Deputy Director alongside Terry, was a volunteer DC Jail chaplain, and led Jubilee Job’s SE Office in Ward 8. After 15 years working with Jubilee Jobs, Jacqueline took a huge leap of faith to co-found Recovery Café DC.

Donald had been in and out of incarceration and addiction for over 35 years. The last time he was released – about 14 years ago – he landed at the Catholic Charities 801 E Men’s Shelter in Ward 8, where he entered treatment and recovery programs, and found employment through Jubilee Jobs. Coming to Jubilee Jobs in Adams Morgan, and then joining in worship at Potter’s House, Donald found the kind of healing community that he needed, and began bringing other guys who were also at the 801 Men’s Shelter, to help them find community. Over time, Donald and Jacqueline started dreaming of a healing place in SE, sharing their vision with Gordon and others over months and years.

The director of 801 E Men’s Shelter said Donald is THE only person who slept in the shelter beds and after leaving, staying connected for more than 14 years, through weekly visits to help the men there find authentic, healing community.

Recovery Café DC is now one of 37 fully independent non-profits in the growing nationwide Recovery Café Network, which provides ongoing learning, training, supports for implementing Recovery Café’s long-term healing community model.

  • Even before the pandemic, 60-70% of people incarcerated in US jails and prisons suffered from addiction and diagnosed mental health challenges. This is utter cruelty – as our society lives the illusion that we are all separate. What a costly illusion.
    • We believe everyone is in recovery from something. Everyone needs healing from seeking outwardly for what will never meet our inner needs.
    • Love, authenticity, vulnerability, being known AND loved. Divine love within every single person. No exception. That is the healing spirit of RCDC.

Recovery Café DC is more than a beautiful, safe, drug and alcohol-free café-style space to enjoy coffee or a meal, it is a place of deep belonging and kinship, a community of people supporting each other’s recovery journeys:

  • Participate in small accountability support groups called Recovery Circles
  • Grow through groups and classes addressing core recovery issues through our School for Recovery
  • Connect with housing, employment, mental health and recovery support
  • Nurture spiritual growth

We’ve been deepening RCDC’s healing programs in rented space in Jubilee Jobs SE as we searched for a property to purchase in Ward 8. Talk about trusting God – as we looked at over 30 properties all around Ward 8, Donald kept saying, I’m glad to look all over, but our property will be on Good Hope Road in Anacostia, near the methadone clinic & the shelters. I often responded ‘well, I’m not sure we’ll ever find such a property.’

After nearly 3 years of searching and making two offers that didn’t come through…transitioning from in-person to zoom recovery support when pandemic shutdown…. at the end of 2020, we purchased a property located at …… yep, you guessed it, 1337 Good Hope Road, SE. Exactly the block that Donald had said God was calling us to.

Back in 2017, Jim Knight, who leads Jubilee Housing, and Jim Dickerson, founder of Manna, told our team we needed to meet Stan Jackson, a passionate, profoundly committed African American leader for equity in housing and opportunity in DC, and premier developer in Southeast DC. Those meetings had powerful authenticity from the start, and its sure not by accident that five years later, after purchasing the property, we turned to Stan and the Anacostia Economic Development Corp (AEDC) which he leads, located just down the street from our new property.

In the middle of a global pandemic, and the need for racial reckoning, RCDC joined with Stan and AEDC to develop a new mixed use, 5 story building, which we will co-own. Recovery Café DC will operate ~8,000 sf of beautiful café-style and classroom space, where deep social, emotional, recovery and mental health support networks will thrive. AEDC will operate ~ 48 affordable rental housing apartments on the top four floors. We project the grand opening of the new building will be November 2023. During this design and construction period, all of RCDC’s programs will continue to grow in our rented space. Trusting God that we will raise the needed funds.

We see this new building vision as an action for racial equity, health equity and environmental equity.

Two Black-founded and led organizations joining together for this vision for long-term healing community, engaging other Black led SE DC businesses, subcontractors, training programs, and bridging systemic gaps in DC communities.

Building health equity, joining the response to DC’s 21 year life expectancy gap with long-term, healing recovery community support and key resource connections.

Pushing environmental equity through removing toxic underground storage tanks and toxic soil, way more prevalent in Southeast DC, and developing a building that meets highest enterprise green standards.

Recovery Café DC is an antidote to “spending for that which is not bread, from laboring for that which does not satisfy…” We’ll grow as a healing community that brings together people from all over and together we will transform the systems that marginalize and exclude.

Thanks for letting me share.

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