By guest author: Natasha Vhugen
Every Wednesday at 12:30 pm, exactly when our 5 minutes of meditative silence commences, Pete Wickstrand enters Recovery Café. The Café enters a silent trance like that of a temple during this time and one feels that calming presence deepen when Peter enters—our Minister of Presence is here.
Mr. Pete Wickstrand cherishes his time as a Minister of Presence (the title given to our weekly volunteers) at Recovery Café. He was born, raised, and has lived in Seattle his whole life. He is married to his beloved wife Karen and they have three children. He attended Queen Anne High School and the University of Washington before working for many years as a financial advisor. Volunteering has been a cornerstone of Pete’s life, either through his church or as an athletic coach; his passion for social justice became more prominent once he retired. Pete stumbled across the story of a man talking about his life and his experience at the Recovery Café. The story stuck. Pete researched the Café, inquired about volunteering, and began his pilgrimage.
He has been volunteering here for two years now and comments on how impactful it is to know the Members of the community on a deeper level. Pete recalls a moment last winter when a Member named Cowboy passed away. He was present at the memorial service for him at Recovery Cafe, and was touched by the stories other mourners shared. Members waxed that Cowboy was helpful and respectful, that he had been cared for and loved by so many, and always performed at our Open Mic event—with a cowboy hat in check of course. Pete felt honored to have known a man like him, and was grateful that the Recovery Café had granted Cowboy the space and support to freely be himself.
Pete’s favorite part about the Café is walking in and being greeted by familiar faces. He senses the cohesive community that has formed in the Café. He senses how everyone involved in the Café: Members, volunteers, staff, and everyone else who spends time and energy here, forms authentic connections with everyone else. He senses how respectful everyone is to each other, and praises that the Café nurtures positivity in all aspects of life. These are sounds foundations that Recovery Café is sturdily built upon.
When I asked Pete what sustains him coming back to volunteer at Recovery Café, he responded, “I believe that what I’m doing has value. Being friendly and showing interest in Members makes a contribution that isn’t major but it is cumulative. Maybe it isn’t even measurable or identifiable, but being present adds to the sense of welcome and community, and allows other programs, like Recovery Circles, to function in a positive environment. Many people here haven’t been connected to people growing up. Recovery Café is family” Pete thinks that the “most important focus [of being a volunteer at the Café] is to have contact with the members.” He says he’s also been looking into ways to use his gift of financial, administrative expertise to alleviate some of the office work from staff who can then focus on more impactful service. In addition, Pete has entertained some thought to teaching a class about finances to answer any financial questions Members may have.
Since starting at Recovery Cafe, Pete has grown more aware of how marginalized people are addressed in political processes. When watching the evening news, he now “contemplates about the Members [at the Café] who have not been supported enough to be get back to productive lives,” and takes that into account when casting his vote for a candidate. He also says he has a greater awareness of not judging people by their appearances or past. “When I see someone selling a Real Change newspaper, I’ll go buy it. When I see someone pushing a cart with all their possessions in it, I have a sense of empathy and realize that these humans are struggling, maybe taking 2, 3, or 4 busses to get services and that if they even miss one bus, they could miss their appointment.”
Pete emphasizes that in the Café, “There’s an atmosphere of sharing and support. It’s conducive to and translates into the way the Recovery Circles are facilitated. When we have our monthly volunteer meetings, there’s personal sharing about what we have been a part of here. It is beneficial because you appreciate the goodness of the people volunteering and also learn from each other. People here are constructive instead of destructive, and that helpfulness and openness can help Members face their challenges. Volunteers understand how to effectively communicating with and be available to our Members.”
He may not have experienced challenges like many of our Members have, but he has discovered that “the opportunity to share their [Members] life experiences helps me realize that as human beings, despite maybe the surface differences pertaining to education or finance that our society focuses on, we are not all that different.” It is Pete’s wisdom that anchors Recovery Café in our essence of recovery, forgiveness, and understanding—thank you to Pete for the amazing service to our community!