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Natural Awakenings Austin

Serenity Star

Serenity Star: A Different Model of Sober Living

By Sheila Julson

Teri Lopez and her wife, Rosie, both know first-hand that the journey toward sobriety can be filled with bumps in the road. They had both been through the 12 Step program, developed by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, when they had lived in New York. “Rosie and I are both in recovery and had been in and out of the 12 Step program for years,” Teri recalls. “We couldn’t figure out why we kept relapsing, because we wanted sobriety.”

After the couple moved from New York to Texas, they figured out a different way to build off the 12-Step program by incorporating spiritual holistic therapies that most treatment models were lacking, such as yoga, meditation, child within work and trauma work. In 2009, they brought their model of clean and sober living to the Smithville community through Serenity Star sustainable recovery. The Comfort Café, which is part of the multifaceted nonprofit, funds the program.

Teri says funding Serenity Star was initially a challenge. They didn’t want government funding, nor did they intend to form a private-pay business because they wanted services to be accessible to everyone, regardless of income. “In the beginning, we did garage sales to fund the program. At one point I had sold my car and put the money into renting space for Serenity Star,” Teri says.

Rosie had worked as a chef at the Marriot and decided that a pay-what-you-can style café, operated by program participants, would be an effective funding source. They opened Comfort Café in October 2010, in Smithville. They opened a second Comfort Café in 2019 in San Antonio to serve the area’s veteran population.

Serenity Star’s programs consist a Men’s and a Women’s House residential program, and a family program. The organization also owns a 10-acre ranch near Smithville, where participants can garden in calming, natural surroundings. Because all programming is sustained through donations only, Teri says they do not have to accept anyone who truly doesn’t want to be there, so the environment is safer and supportive.

 Peer-to-peer Healing

While living in New York, Teri had worked as an addiction counselor and found that licensing tied her hands to exploring deeper healing. “I found that when I pulled from my own recovery experience, the healing was more authentic. Everyone involved with Serenity Star has gone through the program,” she says.

Serenity Star’s yoga and meditation options focus on the spiritual aspect of recovery. Teri’s daughter, Ashley Nicole, is also in recovery and serves as the in-house yoga instructor. The ranch gardens provide a healing environment for clients to spend time in a peaceful environment connecting with both Mother Earth and their inner selves. The Comfort Café is open Friday through Sunday to allow clients to participate in recovery programming during the week. The clients handle all cooking and serving duties. “The servers and cooks are all part of programs. They are learning different social and culinary skills. By the time they leave Serenity Star, they have a skill,” Teri notes.

Customers can enjoy breakfast and lunch options such as omelets, scramblers, pancakes or French toast; meat or vegetarian sandwiches, salads and wraps; burgers; and coffee drinks. Ingredients are sourced locally whenever possible. Teri says that over the past decade, the residents of Smithville have become supportive and are interested in meeting the servers and hearing their stories. “People in the community have met active alcoholics and addicts, but rarely do they get to meet people in recovery. Our servers are encouraged to share their stories.”

Teri emphasizes that money is not a requirement to participating in Serenity Star, but willingness to change is. The program has served young families with infants through individuals in their 70s. “It really is a community,” Teri remarks. “Often we are helping people who have nowhere else to go. We have clients of the homeless population, people coming out of prison and want to start their lives again, or parents that don’t want their children going into foster care while they get help. We believe in families healing together.”

Clients also acquire and build upon existing skills. By offering donation-based housing, Teri says clients can pursue their true interests, rather than working unfulfilling jobs that could lead to relapse. The Serenity Werks division is comprised of clients that are certified plumbers, electricians and construction workers. They help the community by providing donation-based services. High Design gift shop, with locations at both cafes, sells jewelry and art made by clients.

“We believe is that you really have to find your purpose to keep your recovery,” Teri says. “What I like the most is seeing a light bulb go on, when people come in after they had tried to kill themselves, or after they’ve gone through multiple treatment centers. When Rosie and I started, we thought that if we could help one person, it would be worth it. It is amazing to see that it’s worked even better than we’d hoped.”

Serenity Star and Comfort Café are located at 111 NW 1st St., in Smithville, and 5616 Banders Rd., San Antonio. For more information, call 512-321-8336, 512-629-7065 or visit SerenityStar.org.

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