Big changes for a small community: Recovery Café Orting Valley

Orting Valley is nestled between two big hills in Pierce County, Washington, tucked away from major interstates, with just about 8,000 people calling it home.

“There’s no bus lines. There’s no apartment buildings,” said Anthony, the Administrative Resource Specialist for Recovery Café Orting Valley. “Mostly families and houses.”

He notes that even the “pass-through” population is low. So this tucked-away community faces challenges that many rural and remote communities deal with.

Getting people in the door

“The number one (challenge) that sticks out for me is transportation,” said Heidi Coons, Recovery Support Specialist for the Café.

So to create a healing community and deepen connection for Members, the team had to get creative.

“Rural communities are vastly different than high density populated and urban areas,” said Rena Thompson, Executive Director for the Café. “What we noticed before (we) even started the Café was (people’s) lack of ability to get here. That wasn’t addressed until someone graciously donated a van.”

The team uses the van to transport Members to and from the Café, but they also approach transportation for their Members holistically.

The van is used “not just to bring (Members) to the Café, but sometimes we take them to a doctor’s appointment,” Coons said. “One time a member had an injury and couldn’t grocery shop and so we helped (them) with that.”

Thompson also helps distribute loaded gas cards to Members with vehicles, so they don’t have to worry as much about making tough choices about how to spend their gas money.

“If (Members) don’t have extra money for gas, are they going to choose between going to the Café or their doctor’s appointment?” Thompson said.

Focusing on accessibility to the Café has given the team a grounded place from which to build a healing space for a community that has gone through heartache.

Growing through grief

“In 2017 there were deaths related to overdose: some young individuals. Teenagers,” Thompson said. “The community wanted (to do) something.”

With such limited local resources supporting mental health, the United Methodist Church and other community leaders came together and started to build what would become RC Orting Valley.

Coons first found the Café during a period of deep pain.

“Two and a half years ago I had my biggest, worst trauma in my life.” she said. “I didn’t understand what was happening to me when I was struggling to stay motivated in life in general.”

She was referred to the Café as an organization that could help her build “natural supports,” she said. It took her months to work up the courage to step into the Café, but one morning, she did and felt so welcomed that she ended up staying until the Café closed.

Anthony also first approached the Café as a Member, when he was first working through recovery with alcohol use disorder. Immediately, he said, he felt welcome.

“Come here for a day and try to put it into words,” he said. “You’ll laugh and have coffee and leave with a smile on your face.”

Coons shared that joining the Café was a transformational experience.

“I feel that growth and self-confidence and I want to share that with other people,” she said.

Though they operate in a small community, they are growing and finding more funding opportunities.

Amazing “how small the Recovery Café was — even a year ago — and the growth is so dynamic,” Coons said.

Learn more about RC Orting Valley at their website!