New Discovery Cafe in Rifle guides people in right direction
Pamphlets containing information on alcoholics anonymous, drug sponsorships and religious affiliations sat atop a fold-out table underneath a whiteboard.
Rules requiring members to be at least 24 hours sober and to attend meetings on a weekly basis were jotted neatly across the shiny slate.
Shae Jordanolea, a 29-year-old man who not long ago hopped a Greyhound from Florida with nothing but about $120 in his pocket, stood beside a couple of boxes of pizza. It was his first time attending Discovery Cafe, a Rifle refuge of sorts meant to embrace and assist anyone dealing with a number of personal afflictions, Executive Director and Peer Support Specialist Gabe Cohen said.
They could be addicts, the homeless, people suffering from mental health issues — doesn’t matter. Recovery classes, yoga, open gym, food and many other amenities are offered to their members. So far, 22 people are members of the cafe, which has helped served more than 300 meals to people since opening.
The center, merely a classroom located inside Rifle’s Colorado Mountain College campus, started operations in February and is run by Cohen. Cohen is a former addict and ex-convict turned notable martial artist and approved treatment provider for the Colorado Department of Corrections.
But for Jordanolea, his journey to betterment is perhaps in its rudimentary stages. He’s an admitted couch surfer currently living in Rifle. His source of income is made primarily through day labor services. Unskilled jobs like landscaping and digging ditches help him pay for food, bus tickets, clothing and showers.
Jordanolea had just heard about Discovery Cafe that day. With no form of identification or a driver’s license, his goal is to have the cafe assist him in changing that.
“That’d make a big difference,” he said, his voice raspy. “Because if I got my ID, it’d at least get me halfway through the door and onboard to a company that will keep me employed.”
Shane Kyzar, 37, is originally from Mississippi. He moved to Colorado with his wife, Ashley, a 33-year-old paraplegic who also attends the Discovery Cafe, to be closer to Ashley’s kids. They eventually ended up in Rifle and Kyzar started working at a local retail store. In the meantime, the couple stayed at a local motel after being put on a waitlist for government housing.
In February 2015, Kyzar was in a car crash that ultimately killed his father, who was sitting in front of him. Because of that, the tall, tattoo-covered former U.S. Army drill sergeant said he suffers from survivor’s guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder.
But after hearing from his wife about Cohen’s efforts to open a recovery center, Kyzar decided to show up. Ever since, he’s been working to help others suffering from various afflictions. So far, the experience has changed his outlook on his life, he said.
“I used to see people that were homeless and all that and just think, ‘Wow, they’re just lazy. They don’t want to do anything, they’re just somebody with their hand out,’” he said. “But from being here, that’s not the case. You know, you have people that are addicts or they’ve lost their jobs and lost their families and everything else, and they’re literally starting over.”
Kyzar said he now plans to attend Colorado Mountain College to study anthropology.
His wife, Ashley, was also in an accident, which left her paralyzed from underneath her breast line down. She can move her arms but her fingers and legs are immobile. Shane is her full-time caretaker.
Ashley has already seen positive results from her participation in Discovery Cafe. In May, she received her GED and is now enrolled at CMC for August.
Meanwhile, Ashely just received her diploma to become a certified recovery coach, a person who helps individuals seeking recovery from substance abuse and disorders.
“No matter what you go through, you can still achieve whatever goals you want to achieve, as long as you set your mind to it,” she said.
For 27-year-old Pittsburgh native Miranda Randagowetski, her journey to Rifle was influenced by drug addiction. After suffering consistent seizures due to excessive use of a drug called “spice” — laboratory-made chemicals that are aimed to mimic cannabis — Randagowetski felt it was time to make a change.
“I was really, really, really in a bad place,” she said.
Five years ago, she used $340 from her tax returns to purchase a one-way ticket to Colorado. She’d eventually end up in Rifle, also working for a retail store for some time.
A single mother, Randagowetski said her welfare case manager referred her to Cohen and the Discovery Cafe. The experience has made her mentally and emotionally healthier.
“It’s just really freeing, because I can talk about my problems without judgment,” she said. “And feedback is optional.”
When Randagowetski’s not attending Discovery Cafe, the support system is still there. Cohen is always a phone call away.
“He’s a big support even when we’re not here,” she said. “If it’s a weekend or anything, he told me that he’d help me get rides to a church in Glenwood that he goes to, because, like, my son loves it; I love it.”
“Even outside of the cafe, the cafe is still the community,” she added. “We’re all close.”
In addition to helping people suffering from mental health issues, addiction and near homelessness, the Cafe helps people trying to re-assimilate into society after spending time in the penal system.
Rafael Sanchez, 30, is a native of the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado and has spent the past eight years as an inmate of the Department of Corrections.
Not too long ago, Sanchez was released and is now on the path of getting readjusted to a completely new world.
“You can remember everything you knew beforehand,” Sanchez said of life before incarceration. “Now there’s a big old gap in between, and you see all this change. Everything’s gone. The world you know is over, and the world you’re seeing now is just completely new, no matter what.”
It was the Department of Human Services that referred Sanchez to Discovery Cafe, a place that could perhaps help him acclimate to life on the outside.
“It’s helped me open doors to communicate with people, get more attached to the community, learn whereabouts about towns locations, how to get to one place to another without that fear,” Sanchez said of the cafe.
When Sanchez was released, the Department of Corrections handed him an expired ID. The cafe also helped him get a new ID.
“And they’re working to help get my Social Security card, and they’re helping me keep on track,” Sanchez said. “Like, are you doing this? Are you making sure you’re doing this?”
Once he receives all the necessary forms of ID and paperwork, Sanchez said he’s going to apply to become a recovery coach for Discovery Cafe.
Cohen originally started laying the groundwork for the cafe in 2020, has applied for and received various grants, including one from the Colorado Health Foundation and the Colorado Department of Human Services, Office of Behavioral Health, which has enabled him to hire part-time help. In addition, he has plans to start a new Spanish-language program in an effort to attract more Latino people to the cafe.
Besides administrative duties, Cohen will personally pick up members and bring them to the cafe if they’re without transportation. And when class ends for the day, he’s quick to ask his members if they want to take any food when they leave.
It is only then he’ll clear the room at CMC of all the comfy chairs he set out earlier that day and rearrange the tables and prepare the area for an unrelated night class.
As to why he continues to put forth so much of his energy for the cafe, he looked back at his times on the streets of Denver. There was one place there that provided food, clothes and comfortable couches to those in need.
“I would use up whatever bus tokens I had at least once a week to go to that one place, just to like — basically like our mission statement — just to feel loved and valued, like that I was still a person and I still mattered, you know?” he said. “I want to be that place in this community.”
• Call 719-650-5978 and speak with Gabe Cohen.
• Email Cohen at email@example.com.
• Visit Discovery Cafe at the Colorado Mountain College Rifle campus at 3695 Airport Road.
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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