Recovery Cafe ‘blazing a trail’ in East Clark County

Nonprofit serves people who have experienced trauma, homelessness, mental health challenges

Recovery Cafe Clark County recovery coach Jodene Stonebarger (left) talks with a man in the Washougal-based Recovery Cafe on Monday, April 18, 2022.

Recovery Cafe Clark County recovery coach supervisor Ethan Gonzales (right) talks with a woman in the Washougal-based Recovery Cafe on Monday, April 18, 2022.

When Jodene Stonebarger was lost in the throes of her addiction, she never thought that she could become what she is today. In fact, she had a hard time envisioning a future in which she wanted to live at all.

“I was ready to go on Social Security and die,” she said.

She knew that she would need the support of others to overcome her challenges, but didn’t know how or where to find that support — until she discovered Recovery Cafe Clark County, a Vancouver-based nonprofit organization that serves people who have experienced trauma, homelessness, addiction or other mental health challenges.

“It saved my life,” said Stonebarger, who celebrated three years of sobriety in April. “I needed this for a long time. I knew that God was pointing me into a direction where I needed the support of others, and when I found that at the Recovery Cafe three years ago, it opened my eyes. I went through the recovery coach (training), got my certified peer (credentials) and was (recently) promoted to manager of our ‘pop-up’ locations. I could never have dreamed that this would happen to me three years ago.”

One of those “pop-ups” is in Washougal, where Stonebarger and fellow recovery coaches have worked since March to help east Clark County citizens in need. If things go well, “there definitely at some point” will be a full-fledged Recovery Cafe in East Clark County, according to recovery coach supervisor Ethan Gonzales.

“We’re blazing a trail,” he said. “We come into Washougal for four to five hours a week and show what the model is, and hopefully a year to a year-and-a-half from now — we’re committed to that, at least — the community (shows that it) wants something like that.”

Recovery Cafe Clark County launched in 2018 thanks to the efforts of the Southwest Washington Recovery Coalition, a Vancouver-based non-profit organization that provides resources, advocacy, education, evaluation and facilitation to people in need.

“They wanted to get a cafe here, so they went up to (the original cafe in) Seattle and checked it out,” said Recovery Cafe Clark County recovery coach supervisor Ethan Gonzales. “They received a grant to get started, and went over there to where we’re at on Fourth Plain and started remodeling. I really didn’t know what it was going to become, but (I’ve come to realize) that it’s a hub, a platform for people on all paths of recovery, whether it’s trauma or alcohol or drugs. They can come and be a community together and build unity.”

The organization steadily grew, and earlier this year decided to expand by introducing “pop-up” locations in Washougal, Stevenson and Goldendale.

“What we want to do is get recovery out there into communities like Washougal and Camas that really don’t have any (options) for people that are going through addiction and mental health issues,” Stonebarger said. “If you make a connection, you don’t feel alone. When you’re out there on the street, you think people don’t care and you have no direction. To come to a place where you’re welcomed and you start feeling a part of it, it makes a big difference.”

Recovery Cafe Clark County leaders also wanted to find the best use for the Recovery Navigator Program, a statewide effort to provide community-based outreach, intake, assessment and connection to services that support individuals with substance use disorders. “Other cafe’s were doing pop-up (locations) already, so this was something there was a model for,” Gonzales said. “We just started a navigator recovery program, a crisis response to people who are causing harm to themselves and the community, and we thought, ‘What better way than for the navigators and the pop-up cafes to go into these communities and work together?’ That’s how this came about — we wanted these two programs really bad. When we wanted one of them, we realized that both of them would just complement each other.”

The Washougal “pop-up” is located in the basement of the Children’s Home Society of Washington building from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Monday, offering people coffee and food, but more importantly, a place to share their stories and opportunities to connect with others.

“We have a couple of people that come every week,” said recovery coach Abe Lepak. “We’ve had some other people come and check it out, and I believe they’ll be back. We’ve been going to Refuel Washougal and talking to people there, and they know about it and are excited. I think (meeting on) Monday is going to work out really well because (Washougal doesn’t) have anything going on on Mondays here. Word of mouth is the best way to get people to come.”

The cafe uses a “peer-to-peer” support model, according to Gonzales.

“It’s people with lived experiences meeting other people with lived experiences who are maybe further down the road,” Gonzales said. “It takes away the whole power-differential (dynamic) of counselors and stuff like that. We encourage people if that’s what they want. We’ll meet someone and say, ‘What do you want out of your recovery?’ We ask open-ended questions. They have the answers, and they just need someone to ask open-ended questions to (say) the answers.”

The organization asks its members to adhere to six guiding principles: connect with divine love in themselves and others; cultivate compassion; show respect; practice forgiveness; encourage growth; and give back.

“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety; it is connection,” Stonebarger said. “And that connection is saving lives. That’s what we need in our recovery today. That’s what I need, and that’s what I’ve needed my whole life.”

The organization supports “all paths of recovery,” said Gonzales, who joined the organization in 2018 after meeting with the board of directors while battling to maintain his latest attempt at sobriety.

“That’s the big difference here,” he said. “You might have one person in recovery from codependency, another person in recovery from trauma, another person who had a heart attack at a young age, and a recovering alcoholic having a meeting together, and it works, because those questions and guiding principles make it work.”

“Nobody tells anybody (else) how to do their recovery,” added Lepak, who celebrated 14 months of sobriety in mid-April. “When you go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, they tell you to follow a bunch of steps and how to do it. The cafe doesn’t tell you how to do your recovery because your recovery is going to be different than mine. Even if we’re both in recovery for addiction, your recovery is still your recovery and mine is mine.”

Attendees conclude each session by gathering in a “recovery circle” to share details about their rehabilitation efforts.

“One gentleman who came in the first time, he came into the circle and said, ‘Everybody’s always trying to fix me when I come into these places. You just treat me like I’m one of the guys,” Gonzales said. “That goes a long way, it really does.

“That’s how it starts — you sit down and have a cup of coffee and a conversation and become a community. We’re giving people a home, a community. It’s all about connection, really. We eat a meal, hang out a little bit, then we do a (recovery) circle. It’s really basic, but it’s powerful. And it works. That’s the thing. It just works.”