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‘I have hope in my life again’: Recovery program in Rifle helping those in need

Karina Antolin (left), Gabe Cohen (center), Raphael Sanchez (right) prepare for the Discovery Cafe 'Back to School Fiesta' on August 14th, 2021.
Discovery Cafe
Gabe Cohen, center, Karina Antolin and Raphael Sanchez prepare for the Discovery Cafe “Back to School Fiesta” on Aug. 14.

A woman named Janet was one of about 10 community members gathered at Colorado Mountain College in Rifle on Monday for a weekly recovery meeting with Discovery Cafe.

But this cafe is not one with baristas and overpriced lattés. Rather, it’s a nonclinical, peer-support system for people in recovery.

Gabe Cohen, who founded Discovery Cafe last October, began meetings at CMC earlier this year.

“We don’t try to push any one pathway for recovery,” Cohen said. “What might’ve worked for me might not work for the next person.”

He has leased a classroom at CMC, furnished it with comfortable seating, and invited anyone in recovery to have lunch and share their story.

Discovery Cafe, one of 27 branches of the Recovery Cafe Network, requires participants to become members and meet certain requirements. Those requirements include that some be drug and alcohol free for at least 24 hours, that they come to one recovery circle per week, and that they contribute to the community by helping to run the cafe and nurture others’ recovery.

Cohen says that sobriety is an important tenet of membership. He doesn’t want members to be triggered by someone who is actively using when they enter the space.

By requiring membership from participants, Cohen hopes to encourage accountability. People come at the same time every week to hear what challenges their peers are facing and what goals they have for the coming week.

Cohen opens the recovery circle with the same message every week: “When we show up and listen to each other with our whole hearts, we create a space where healing can happen in our lives.”

Recovery is an intentionally vague word at Discovery Cafe. You can be recovering from drugs, divorce, abuse, homelessness or anything else. And Cohen’s responsibility to his members extends beyond the open hours of the cafe. Last week, for example, he received a referral from Grand River Health.

“I was picking up donations with my 8-year-old in Aspen,” Cohen said. “And I got a referral from the hospital: senior citizen, alcoholic, homeless, scared, getting released from the hospital. Nowhere to go. Could I help?”

Cohen picked Janet up from the hospital and brought some emergency hotel vouchers. He got her three nights at a motel in Glenwood Springs. But Monday morning, she checked out and still had no place to go.

“We’re trying to access services to help her,” Cohen said. “To get her medications. To get her housing. And I was expecting follow-ups from other community partners, and nobody called. There are people that want to help, but there are definitely huge gaps in the system.”

Cohen brought Janet to the Discovery Cafe space at CMC, where she became its newest member, got a free haircut from one of the members and even found some familiar faces.

Discovery Cafe Executive Director Gabe Cohen, left, and Janet, his newest member, share a warm moment on Monday, Sept. 27.
Gabe Cohen
Discovery Cafe executive director Gabe Cohen and Janet, his newest member, share a warm moment Sept. 27.

A member named Aaron has been a member of Discovery Cafe for months.

“It was very emotional for me,” said Aaron, who had not seen Janet for two months. “She looks extremely better than when we saw her on the street.”

Aaron has a lot of faith in the Discovery Cafe program and what Cohen may be able to do for Janet and others.

“That’s what’s the best thing about this place,” Aaron said. “Since being here, I've seen Gabe hook people up with places to live, help them find jobs, help them find how to eat their next meal. He’s employed some of the people that started coming here. That I was actually in prison with, and now they’re working here with Gabe Cohen.”

Aaron added that Cohen’s lack of experience with nonprofits doesn’t hold him back.

“Gabe was an ex-crack addict,” Aaron said. “Ex-convict. Lived on the streets of Denver homeless and didn’t have those places that he wished he had when he was really struggling trying to make it. And that’s what Gabe is now trying to provide, ’cause he’s been there.”

Cohen was in prison seven times. But things really turned around when he spent two years taking care of sick inmates.

“Those were two of the best years of my life, as strange as it may sound,” Cohen said. “I mean, I was in prison, but I had a purpose. I wanted those men to know that there was somebody that sincerely cared for them.”

Through Kings and Priests Ministries, a nonprofit that Cohen started in 2020, he has secured enough funding to launch the program in Rifle. He is now seeking to expand the Recovery Cafe model into Glenwood Springs. All he needs now is a space.

On Monday afternoon, Cohen was called with some good news. Janet received a few more nights at a hotel this week, giving Cohen and his team time to help with her Section 8 housing application. This will help her find more-permanent housing.

Since then, Cohen and the staff at Discovery Cafe have also provided Janet with rides, a winter coat, groceries and a space at CMC where she can sit among friends.

And Janet is grateful for the help she has received this past week.

“I feel peaceful,” Janet said, shedding tears. “I feel happy. I have hope in my life again. And I feel loved. And it’s nice to know that there’s people that really do care.”

Halle Zander is a broadcast journalist and the afternoon anchor on Aspen Public Radio during "All Things Considered." Her work has been recognized by the Public Media Journalists Association, the Colorado Broadcasters Association, and the Society of Professional Journalists.