Open Hearts, Saying Yes: The Founding of Recovery Café Longmont

by Mike Schut, Communications Manager

Walking through the world with an open heart can be a dangerous practice. It just might be broken; it just might be stirred to respond. 

And you can never predict what will nudge an already opened heart to crack open just a little wider.

For Lawson Drinkard it was words on a page. For Steve Kukic it was his own son’s ongoing struggles with addiction and homelessness. For David Barker it was his love of the Gospel and his desire to follow Jesus—who walked through the world with a wide-open heart. 

The words that “totally struck” Lawson came from Wake Forest University’s Spring 2017 magazine. The article featured Wake Forest graduate Killian Noe, the cofounder of the first Recovery Café in Seattle.

Lawson still isn’t sure just why the article impacted him so deeply, but it’s clear his heart was open—and he’s learned to pay attention to that sort of stirring of the heart.

Central Presbyterian

Central Presbyterian in Longmont (Colorado) has a long history of partnering with other entities to meet unmet community needs. There are a good number of human service organizations in Longmont that exist as a direct result of initiatives taken over the years by Central Presbyterian.

Even with that rich history of service, six years ago the church’s leadership team (called “Session”) sensed it was time to do something more. They challenged themselves to find the thing that they could do together that would, “make Longmont a better place for more people.” 

Lawson and Steve were both members of Session. David served as the church’s pastor. During Session one evening Lawson shared with his fellow church leaders the impact the article about Killian and her work had had on him. He said to the group, “I think we should invite Killian to come to Longmont so we can learn about the Recovery Café.”

An Easy Call

Session gathered a couple months later, along with a number of Longmont’s governmental and nonprofit leaders, at Steve’s house. Though Killian was not there in person, the group convened to participate in a video meeting with her and David Uhl (then the director of the Recovery Café Network) to learn more about the essence of the Recovery Café model. Killian’s vision and the power of the Recovery Café model struck the group so strongly that Session voted unanimously to start a Café.

Lawson Drinkard (l) and Steve Kukic at Cohort Launch in Seattle, October of 2018.
Terry and David Barker at the same Cohort Launch.

Pastor David said the Session’s decision to apply to become a new Café in the Network was “easy.” He also describes the church’s support as “one of our finest moments as a family of faith”—because when you look at what the Recovery Café model is really about, it so closely reflects the Gospel, he says. The Gospel is about “community, about love, about being loved and accepted and valued”—which is what Cafés strive to embody every day.

While the church community initially birthed the Café, the founders emphasize that the Café has always been completely separate from the church. It is not a ministry of the church. To have a place where all feel welcome, it’s likely important that people of other faiths, or no faith, feel as equally and warmly embraced as anyone else.


Lisa Searchinger was one of those nonprofit leaders who attended the gathering at Steve’s house. At the time she was the executive director of HOPE, an organization serving the unhoused in Longmont. 

While learning more about the Recovery Café model, she heard a speaker at Recovery Café Seattle’s annual fundraiser say: “Recovery is the key to ending homelessness.” That stuck with Lisa as she had been working at HOPE to address homelessness. 

She shared that with David, who asked, “Do you want to be the Café’s executive director?” Lisa needed a little time, but not much; she sensed something stirring inside, nudging her to say yes.

Lisa said yes, just as David and Lawson and Steve had said yes. Just as Central Presbyterian said yes.

Just as an anonymous donor—moved by a sermon David gave about Recovery Café—said yes and contributed a significant financial gift to help launch the Café.

Making dreamcatchers at the Café.
The Café’s first open mic night.
Yoga class.

A Profound Impact

In talking with Recovery Café Longmont’s cofounders, it’s clear that not only has the Café transformed the lives of many of its Members, it has also profoundly impacted them. 

Lawson’s friendship with a fellow Café board member is one example. “Before Recovery Café I didn’t have friends who told stories about being in jail or in prison. Now I do.” Cafés nurture those kinds of relationships—where societal boundaries or differences break down and we feel and understand our connections with one another. The kinds of relationships that grow our own circle of compassion.

Steve, also a member of the board, drawing on his background as a psychologist, referenced Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. “In our society,” Steve said, “if you achieve, you belong.” For Maslow, as for Steve, it’s clear that belonging is a more basic need than achieving. In the Café, people experience that belonging, experience the power of community, and hopefully then go about the business of exploring how they want to contribute and what they want to achieve.

And David, as pastor of Central Presbyterian, and chair of the Café’s founding board, reflected on how much he appreciates being in the Café, how watching the transformation happening in people’s lives resonates with his convictions. He said, “I could not not be involved. This was a way for me to live what I believe—what we say we believe as a church—on a daily basis.”

Former executive director Lisa Searchinger (l) and current executive director Jen Jepsen.

To the Present Day

The story of Recovery Café Longmont’s origins goes back at least as far as the early spring of 2018, when Lawson shared with Session how deeply the article about Killian and the Recovery Café model had impacted him.

Following Session’s meeting at Steve’s, and the church’s affirmative vote to launch a Café, the cofounders submitted the Recovery Café Network’s application, were accepted, and attended their Cohort Launch in Seattle in October of 2018. (This article’s top/banner image was taken during Longmont’s Cohort Launch in Seattle.) During that two-day training, the cofounders sense of call to launching a Café in Longmont—a town of 100,000 about an hour’s drive north of Denver—only deepened.

Following Cohort Launch, the founders returned to Longmont and got busy, first opening the doors of Recovery Café Longmont in May of 2019. As all Cafés in the Network do, they started out as an Emerging Member Café. Graduation to being a Full Member Café—which officially took place in March of 2023—was delayed due to COVID.

But all along, for over four years now, the Café has served the Longmont community. The team there has embodied the Recovery Café model creatively and with a great deal of vision and commitment. To see what they’re up to these days, visit their website.

Gratitude to Lisa Searchinger, David Barker, Steve Kukic, and Lawson Drinkard—for your time describing the heartfelt paths you all walked in the process of founding Recovery Café Longmont

Lisa, David, Steve, and Lawson also emphasized that there were others who served on the founding board and played significant roles in bringing the Recovery Café to Longmont, including Donna Ferrey, Karen Kruse, and Terry Barker. All three are also members of Central Presbyterian.

Profound gratitude to all of you—for all you did to launch Recovery Café Longmont, and all you continue to do. 

Finally, remember that important meeting at Steve’s house? Jen Jepsen was there too. Jen now serves as the Café’s executive director as Lisa very recently retired. Clearly, Jen too has been interested, from Recovery Café Longmont’s beginnings, in the kinds of healing communities created by Recovery Cafés.