Coffee is often the lifeblood of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
Frank Kerker isn’t sure why, but good coffee is necessary to many people in recovery, he says.
So when Kerker decided to start a company with a plan of donating profits to help people live sober, he knew it had to involve coffee. Kerker launched Sober Joe Coffee Co. in September, to coincide with the South Central Opioid Summit in downtown Bloomington, where he handed out samples and information packets.
Kerker planned to sell the coffee in Bloomington, with all proceeds funding scholarships for people at Courage to Change Sober Living House. Sober Joe has funded six scholarships totaling $1,500, providing $250 for six people during their first month in recovery through the program.
Sober Joe is sold at various locations around Bloomington with names like “Dark Before Dawn Recovery Blend” and “Dawn’s Surly Light On-Awakening Blend” with the motto “supporting recovery, one cup at a time.”
“Recovery is near and dear to my heart,” Kerker said, a recovering alcoholic himself who spent 25 years in the beverage industry. “It makes a lot of sense, for me, because my background is in the beverage business. You know, I want to help, I want to give back, so what do I know about? So this was kind of a perfect intersection of those two areas.”
The Courage to Change Sober Living House in Bloomington was started by Brandon Drake and Marilyn Burrus in 2016, with the first house opening in July. It wasstarted to help meet the need for more lower barrier sober living homes in Monroe County, and has since grown to five homes — four for men and a newly opened women’s facility on South Rogers Street — and can serve up to 25 clients. In all, 84 clients have gone through Courage to Change, with a 35 percent success rate of clients still in recovery, Burrus said.
“Even if they don’t make it at first, their chances are always better the second time,” Burrus said. “We know relapses are part of recovery.”
Courage to Change asks clients to stay for at least 90 days, with an average stay of six months. Clients are asked to find a job within two weeks of entering the program, to encourage accountability and structure. The cost is $500 a month.
Jill Hall had been trying to get sober for years when she entered Courage to Change in December 2016. Hall needed that structure and accountability, having bounced around between using drugs, entering other recovery programs, spending time in jail and using drugs again. Courage to Change provided the one-on-one mentoring she needed, she said, although she did feel the financial burden. She stayed in the program for nearly nine months and remains in recovery.
“Most people are just getting out of jail, trying to find a job and you end up in a hole before you can even begin,” Hall said. “(A scholarship) would have been a huge help. Everyone worries about finances, whether you’re an addict or not. But especially for people just getting out of jail, they’ve lost everything they owned because they were incarcerated or in the drug world.”
Burrus agreed, saying the partnership with Sober Joe has the capacity to help a lot of people.
“He’s helping a population that really needs help,” Burrus said of Kerker. She’s also hoping the partnership will lead to more people knowing about Courage to Change. “The more history you have, the more name recognition that’s out there, the easier it is to get grants.”
Kerker hopes to find success in Bloomington with Sober Joe, and expand the model nationwide. The 12-ounce bags sell for $10, in line with similar specialty coffees.
He recently announced an additional partnership, with Compassion4Addiction, another nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the way people view and understand addiction.
Sober Joe is in its early stages, and the company has yet to actually turn any profits, Kerker said. Even so, the monthly scholarships will continue, he said, because it’s an important mission.
“One of the reasons I like this (the partnership) so much, in addition to being in recovery, is because with a lot of our social ails and community problems, underneath them is addiction. Whether it’s homelessness or domestic violence, all sorts of crime or illness, a significant portion of all that is fueled by addiction,” Kerker said. “If you can treat that, then you’re treating a lot of the other ills and ails, as well.”
By Jonathan Streetman, Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind.
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