By Michelle Cohen
Hope & Coffee is a coffeehouse where customers can purchase a hot drink, but also find companionship with people on a recovery journey from opioid addictions. The friendly employees are going through recovery as well, often unable to find other jobs due to their past. For founder Lisa Scheller, Hope & Coffee is a dream come true – her vision of a place for people in recovery to meet and find a community comes to life every day in an 1865 Victorian building in Tamaqua.
Thirty-six years ago, Scheller, a long-time supporter of the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley and a leader with the American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, was working through a recovery journey of her own. “Part of my program of recovery is to give back, to be able to help others to recover,” she said, but the stigma of her experience weighed her down. After years of contemplation and moving forward, Scheller has come to realize that “as someone who has been in recovery with a mostly happy, fulfilling and successful life, [a history of drug addiction] isn’t something I need to be ashamed of. This is a strength, and I could use my experience to provide hope, direction and inspiration for others.”
With this in mind, she approached the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership, a 501c3 organization designed to improve the quality of life in the Tamaqua region. Scheller, who grew up there and still considers the area home, was distressed to hear about the opioid epidemic hitting the town and wanted to do what she could to help. After discussing some ideas, Scheller and the Partnership agreed to make a coffeehouse based on helping people recover from addiction. This led to the creation of Hope & Coffee.
The coffeehouse is based on the first step of the Support, Treatment, Enforcement and Prevention (STEP) model of recovery. Hope & Coffee provides companionship and a stigma-free space for people to “gather socially and connect with each other in a warm and friendly environment,” Scheller said. “Our mission is to create a safe, family-friendly community place” for people recovering from addiction to find support from people on similar journeys as well as the community at large. The building’s tables and meeting spaces are open for the whole community to share, and hopefully for people who have not struggled with addiction to realize that people who have are not so different from them.
Executive director Micah Gursky and manager Loren Collura are working with Scheller, dedicating their lives to helping people recover.
The support of the community at large is what started the coffeehouse and is keeping it going. The project is entirely privately funded, something that means a lot to Scheller because it signifies that “this is the community helping itself. This is people helping themselves, each other and the community.” Once the project was started, and the building was renovated in a poignant symbol of the transformation of the lives of the people who visit, the coffee sales enabled its continuation as a self-sufficient business.
As a free-standing business, Hope & Coffee is staffed by people who are in “early recovery,” meaning that they are working through or finishing a treatment program or therapy or have been referred by the county drug court. “This is a re-entry point into society,” said Scheller, whose memories of her journey help her see beyond what others may see from a person with a drug addiction history.
“I want to take the stigma out of recovery because we are just like everybody else. We have families, we want to do a good job and we want to create value in our lives,” Scheller said. “When we ask a job applicant about their connection with addiction and they say, ‘I am one year in recovery from a heroin addiction,’ we look at that as a positive thing that they’re in recovery, and want to give them an opportunity for steady employment.”
“A person in early recovery needs to feel valued and like they are creating value,” said Scheller, who hopes that Hope & Coffee creates this space for employees and patrons alike. “It gives meaning to a person’s life, and meaning in early recovery can mean all the difference.”
Check next month’s HAKOL for photos from Hope & Coffee. To learn more, visit www.hopeandcoffee.org.