A new cafe in Vermont’s Lamoille County is serving up something special: healthier and more productive futures for its employees.
Jenna’s Coffee House will celebrate its grand opening Friday. Named after a local woman who lost her life to opioid use disorder, the coffee house will employ people in long-term recovery.
Under a partnership with Two Sons Bakehouse, the employees will work alongside industry veterans as part of a workforce development and training program.
“I've worked with people in recovery my entire career,” said Bill Hoag, the owner of Two Sons Bakehouse, in a written statement announcing the grand opening of Jenna’s Coffee House. “I like the idea of bringing people into the workforce that want to work. We need people to work, and they need to work. Why wouldn't we want to give them the opportunity?”
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“Having a purpose is huge,” said Hailey Wilkinson, who is in long-term recovery from opioid use disorder and who now is a leader in part of the social enterprise component of the Johnson-based Jenna’s Promise.
The organization is named for Jenna Tatro, who lost her life to opioid use disorder. Through their grief, Jenna’s family founded the nonprofit to provide a range of services including supportive sober housing, a community center focused on wellness, and a workforce development program.
“We are changing lives,” said Angel Mason, the workforce development coordinator at Jenna’s Promise, who preps people in early recovery on skills they’ll need to succeed in jobs— as well as on shaping their resumes and readying for interviews. “When they leave here, they’re not just working a job, they’re having a career.”
Participants staff a discount store, and even sell scratch-and-dent appliances. A fast-growing part of the operation is a coffee roasting business known as Jenna’s Promise Roasting Co.
The roasting company uses equipment donated by The Divided Sky Foundation. Its founder, Trey Anastasio, famous from the Vermont-born band Phish, is himself in long-term recovery and has said he’ll never forget what a nurse told him in rehab.
“She said, ‘Trey, you’re a sick person trying to get well. Not a bad person trying to get good,’” the musician recalled in a 2021 video he recorded to help celebrate the launch of Jenna’s Promise.
Coffee roasted by Jenna’s Promise Roasting Co. will be served in the new coffee house.
Jenna’s Promise sees its mission as really meeting the moment, because Vermont is confronting both an overdose crisis and steep workforce shortages.
“Evidence suggests that actually, people in recovery are above average in terms of their loyalty, in terms of their work ethic, they feel a great sense of gratitude to their employers and for their opportunities,” said Daniel Franklin, the chief operating officer of Jenna’s Promise.
As NECN reported in 2019, there has been a growing movement in Vermont to hire people in recovery. That effort involved the Chittenden County Opioid Alliance’s release of a toolkit for employers to provide assistance in getting started or to continue best practices.
Hailey Wilkinson, who is the assistant store manager for the discount store operated by Jenna’s Promise, said she is proud to be a part of the organization. She told NECN & NBC10 Boston the structure and sense of accomplishment from a job is critical to many succeeding in recovery.
“It’s an important and wonderful thing they created,” Wilkinson said of the Tatro family. “[People with substance use disorders] got lost and we just needed a little guidance to get back on track. And it’s an amazing thing to have these people and this place here to give us hope and strength and love to make us feel like we’re worth it, so we can get back out into society.”
The power of a second chance will be served in every cup from Jenna’s Promise Roasting Co. and the new Jenna’s Coffee House.
For information connecting to drug or alcohol support services in Vermont, visit this website funded by the Vermont Department of Health.