Being With: The Founding of Recovery Café Indy

by Michael Schut, Communications Manager

Being with.

Not doing for. Not helping out. Not serving or saving others.

“Being with,” not necessarily launching a new nonprofit, is what inspired the founders of Recovery Café Indy. They began here: “We want to be in community; we want to listen, learn, connect, and understand.”

So that’s what Beth Kreitl and Kevin Espirito did when they moved to Indianapolis in 2018. Beth in particular launched a listening tour of sorts. She met individually with over 50 leaders: people in recovery and recovery providers; people from BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and low-income communities; teachers; police officers; university leaders. Beth wanted to find out what was going on in central Indiana related to mental health challenges. She wanted to know what services were being offered and where the gaps were.

As she listened, Beth heard over and over again of the connections between mental health challenges, addiction, trauma, and homelessness.

Beth Kreitl and Kevin Espirito, cofounders of Recovery Café Indy (Indianapolis)

Nicaragua

But we’re getting a little ahead of the story—because one of the deep roots undergirding the founding of Recovery Café Indy took hold years earlier in Nicaragua. On a 2014 trip organized by her employer, Seattle University, Beth found herself in a classroom listening to Jesuit priest Fernando Cardenal.

Father Cardenal was “a son of privilege who embraced Latin America’s poor as a revolutionary priest.” He served as Nicaragua’s Education Minister from mid-1984 to 1990 under the Sandinista National Liberation Front and oversaw a “campaign that local officials credited with reducing illiteracy to 13 percent from 51 percent.”[i] (Cardenal later left the Sandinista party, feeling they had abandoned the poor.)

Being with Father Cardenal was transformative for Beth. You may have had the experience of being in the presence of someone whose choices reflect the profound human values of compassion for and solidarity with those who have not been given as many privileges in life. Someone who inspires you, almost ineffably, indescribably, but the experience itself changes you, calls you to respond. It was something like that.

Father Cardenal’s life and words, paired with the poverty and economic disparity she saw in Nicaragua, troubled and disoriented Beth. She returned to life and work in Seattle, but was pursued by the question: “What is ‘being with’ all about; how am I to be with the vulnerable?”

Kevin and Beth in Vietnam

That question, and the unrest Beth experienced following Nicaragua, led Beth and Kevin to move to Vietnam for two years, living, listening, learning, loving, sharing the worry, and being with the people of central Vietnam. During those two years, Beth and Kevin saw that communities had passion, strong leaders, and many strengths—but often lacked infrastructure, opportunities, and resources.

It was in Vietnam that Beth and Kevin birthed the idea of starting We Bloom, a nonprofit that would seek to support communities with just that: infrastructure, opportunities, and resources—with a mission to “Catalyze communities of love and wellness.” They chose to launch We Bloom in Indianapolis, to be close to Beth’s family. (We Bloom would soon become the parent organization of the yet-to-be-imagined Recovery Café Indy!)

Recovery Café Seattle

Now, back to where we left off: the Indianapolis listening tour inspired by Beth’s time in Nicaragua.

The prevalence of connections between mental health challenges, addiction, trauma, and homelessness that Beth heard about rang a bell for her. When living in Seattle, Beth had volunteered for a place called Recovery Café whose mission statement read, “We are a community of people who have experienced trauma and the results of trauma such as homelessness, addiction, and other mental health challenges coming to know we are loved and that we have gifts to share.”

A Recovery Café Indy culinary class

And so, on a return visit to Seattle, Beth and Kevin sat down with Killian Noe and David Uhl, two of the leaders of the Recovery Café Network. As they learned more about the Recovery Café Model—the ethos, principles, and commitments that guided their operations—Beth and Kevin began to wonder if their Indianapolis community might see the Café as a good fit. They asked for permission to share the Model with their community.

They returned to Indianapolis with David and Killian’s blessing, along with a few PowerPoint slides and a deeper sense of the heart of the Recovery Café Model. 

The Indianapolis Community Gathers

JT describes himself as an “oddball.” And, it’s true, there aren’t that many black Quakers. JT, following his service in the military, became a community organizer for over 50 years. Bre, too, is a community organizer. When asked what she does or what she’s about, she says, “I just naturally bring people together.” Her presence and her connections make things happen.

JT, community organizer and founding core team member of Recovery Café Indy

Beth had met both Bre and JT on her listening tour; they were two of the 60 people who showed up at the community forum Beth and Kevin organized—as part of their work through We Bloom—to share the Recovery Café Model.

Beth and Kevin’s approach was understated: there is this thing, this Café, we know about; what do you all think? They did not want something from outside the community to in any way be imposed; the community would know what was needed and would decide if the Model seemed appropriate, right.

And the answer was an overwhelming yes!

Bre Suggs, community organizer and founding core team member of Recovery Café Indy

Forming a Core Team

Of those 60 who attended the community forum, a number volunteered to be part of the core team which would explore the Recovery Café Model more deeply and lead the application process.

Bre and JT were two of those volunteers.

In her organizing work, Bre had been struck by how often funding sources as well as providers often isolate people’s challenges into silos of “pathology”—called, for example, mental illness or addiction. So she was impressed that the Recovery Café Model did not create those kinds of silos, that it was more integrated and provided space for all at the table, a place where everyone’s whole self would be welcome.

For JT, the Café’s emphases on giving back, on being peer led, and on raising up Member Leaders reminded him of a fundamental principle of community organizing: “Each one reach one; each one teach one.” As Café Members are reached, they in turn reach others; as Members and teammates are taught, they in turn teach others.

Centered on Love

Once Recovery Café Indy’s application had been accepted, members of the core team flew to Seattle for Cohort Launch, a two-day experience designed to train and help establish new Cafés. Bre, Kevin, and Beth were among those who attended.

The team from Recovery Café Indy attended Cohort Launch 5, pictured here outside Recovery Café Seattle

Their time in Seattle confirmed their sense that the Recovery Café Model was what they wanted to create in Indianapolis. As Bre said, the Model was, and is, “centered on love.” Members of the core team experienced what they hoped to create in Indy: a community of healing where people feel authentically seen and valued, where Members are treated with dignity.

Back in Indianapolis, as the Café began, JT and Bre both volunteered as Recovery Circle leaders, as companions to those who showed up. JT led a group focused on grief. Kevin often worked the floor, training volunteers and seeking to heal the disconnections that exist between people in our society. For Kevin, the “magic” happens when communities begin to heal those disconnections; and he’s seen and felt that many times at Recovery Café Indy.

And that kind of healing is in a way magic. But the possibility for that kind of magic is created through and founded on certain core principles: listen; communities know what they need; be relational, rather than transactional, in relationships; none of us can do important or meaningful work on our own; begin by being with.


With much appreciation and gratitude to JT, Bre, Kevin, and Beth for sharing these stories with us; we are grateful for your time, for the love shared and community being built through Recovery Café Indy—and that you are part of the Recovery Café Network!


[i] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/24/world/americas/fernando-cardenal-nicaraguan-priest-who-defied-pope-dies-at-82.html?searchResultPosition=2