Food Service & Agriculture, Health Care, and Nonprofits

Server forms recovery nonprofit

HopCat employee, social work student aims to help foodservice workers struggling with substance use.

May 3, 2019
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Beer City
Nance McGorman started Beer City Recovery in 2017 to offer an open-format, bi-weekly peer support group for members of the food, beverage and service industries. Photo by Michael Buck

For someone committed to getting sober, working in a restaurant or bar with the sights and smells of beer all day can be tough.

That’s according to Nance McGorman, a server at HopCat who decided to start a local support group for others in her shoes two years ago. In February, the group received its nonprofit status as Beer City Recovery (BCR).

The organization offers an open-format, bi-weekly peer support group for members of the food, beverage and service industries who struggle with substance use issues, who are in recovery or who are “sober curious.”

Meetings address the issues of improving health and wellness while surrounded by alcohol and illicit substances at and/or after work.

“We also have a pretty great phone tree of people who are awake at all hours to contact if you are struggling at 3 p.m. or 3 a.m.,” McGorman said.

BCR also offers community recovery resources and referrals to continuing education.

The group is billed as a “judgment-free” zone that is LGBTQIA friendly and nonfaith based.

In addition to agreeing to a pledge of anonymity (what happens in the meeting stays in the meeting), group attendees are given a list of “BCR 10 Commandments” or tips for recovery they can follow.

Meetings are held at 11 a.m. the first Monday of each month and at 4 p.m. on the third Monday at Promises of Hope, 800 Monroe Ave. NW, Suite 201, in downtown Grand Rapids.

BCR has applied for federal and state grants and is planning fundraisers to raise money for additional services, such as limited cost support for detox and rehab stays, bus passes for those with no driver’s licenses so they can still get to work and counseling cost support over a certain number of sessions per individual.

McGorman quit drinking in January 2017 after her substance use led to an encounter with the Kent County legal system. She was court mandated to attend Alcoholics Anonymous for a year but left the meetings frustrated with the “clean people, clean places” approach that recommends removing any exposure to temptation from your life, even if it means quitting your job as a server.

“I was always met with, ‘You have to change your whole life to get in recovery and to get sober.’ I don’t really have any other marketable skills. I’ve been doing this since I was 16, I make a decent amount of money, it helps me put myself through school, helps me raise my child, it’s really flexible and I enjoy it,” McGorman said.

“Workers should not have to leave a job they love, that financially supports them for a lower-paying job just to get well or enter recovery,” she said.

She stopped talking about her job at AA meetings, even though she felt the stability, steady money and family atmosphere at HopCat were big — and positive — contributors to her recovery.

McGorman said she also didn’t agree with the religious overtones she experienced at the AA meetings — what she called the “You have to give yourself over to God to get well” approach — which she believes downplays the individual responsibility and hard work it takes to recover.

“You’re the only one keeping yourself sober, and you should be really proud of all the hard work that you do,” she said.

After trying other groups besides AA, such as SMART Recovery and LifeRing Secular Recovery, McGorman tried searching online for a support group specific to people in her industry and couldn’t find one.

Seven months into her sobriety journey, in July 2017, she founded the group that is now Beer City Recovery.

McGorman said she knows several people in the recovery community, whether through her groups or people she met in the legal system, whose substance use issues led to Child Protective Services taking away their children. Other people received drug or DUI charges and are feeling the fallout of that.

As a result, she decided to pursue a social work degree to be better equipped to help with those issues. She will be starting pre-social work classes this month (May) at Grand Rapids Community College and hopes to continue her education further after that with the goal of becoming a licensed recovery coach.

Until then, her focus is on raising the funds to be able to help pay for detox or rehab services for five people per year. She also is working toward starting a drop-in center in Grand Rapids that would offer a safe space for yoga and art classes, as well as support meetings.

Harmony Hall recently donated in-kind goods for BCR to auction off at events.

BCR is planning its first event, a “mocktail dinner” fundraiser that will pair nonalcoholic summery drinks with a three- or four-course meal. More information, including a date and location, will be posted on the Beer City Recovery Facebook page.

BCR sells merchandise, accepts donations, posts meeting schedules and links to more information and resources at its website, beercityrecovery.com.

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