“Growing a Healing Forest is a mentality”

(Source: landscapevoice.com)
(Source: landscapevoice.com)

“What’s called for in this metaphor is treating the soil — creating a Healing Forest within which the health of the individual, family, neighborhood, community, and beyond are simultaneously elevated. The Healing Forest is a community in recovery.”

Derek Wolfe, a recent University of Michigan grad (soon to be a medical student), just posted an ambitous series of articles on Ann Arbor, MI as a “healing forest.”


He profiles several elements/contributors to Ann Arbor’s recovery readiness. Here’s my favorite:

Just a short walk from Zingerman’s Deli in Kerrytown sits The Lunch Room, a popular vegan restaurant in Ann Arbor. Co-owner Phillis Engelbert, formerly a community organizer before moving into the restaurant business, has worked like Weinzweig [Zingerman’s co-founder] to cultivate an inclusive culture and positive workplace, which may explain why 11 out of 27 of her employees are in recovery.

“Well I think with the first (employee in recovery), it probably was just building that personal relationship,” Engelbert said. “But then everyone who came after, the word was out: Lunch Room will support you. Or you know, there’s no stigma here. Or like, if you need to go to court dates, they’ll give you time off. Or if you end up going to a court date and you get thrown in jail for a couple days and then come back out, you won’t lose your job. Or like, they’ll celebrate your sobriety anniversaries. Or, just whatever, they’ll understand and there won’t be a stigma.”

But removing stigma in a workplace can’t just be an effort from top leadership. The mentality must make its way into the minds of every employee. One of the ways in which Engelbert is able to maintain a stigma-free culture and family atmosphere is through a careful hiring process.

Removing stigma in a workplace can’t just be an effort from top leadership. The mentality must make its way into the minds of every employee.

“I’m also really really careful about who I hire because I don’t want to wreck (the inclusive, stigma-free culture),” Engelbert explained. “So I tell people when they’re interviewing, I say, ‘We have people here from all walks of life. We have people here of different income backgrounds, education levels, prison history, lesbian, gay, trans, whatever. You have to be happy about that or you can’t work here. Like you have to look at that as a positive and help us embrace all that or this isn’t the place for you.’”

The result of Engelbert’s efforts is an environment in which recovery is able to be discussed openly among the staff. Conversations about recovery occur often at The Lunch Room.

“Everyday. All the time. It’s just like talking about the weather,” Engelbert said.

One Lunch Room employee put it this way: “It’s nice to be open about (recovery), have a boss that understands and just not have like a drug-fueled kitchen environment ’cause that’s just not what I want to be around.”