Jonny Boucher wants you to know it’s OK to talk about mental health. And the founder of the unique, mission-driven Sip of Hope café (3039 W. Fullerton Ave.) invites you to do it over a warm mug of Dark Matter coffee.
This month, Sip of Hope and other advocacy groups celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month—and the café also marks one year in business. The shop’s marking the national campaign with events through May and into the summer. Meanwhile, Sip of Hope and its parent organization, Hope for the Day, will keep pushing their core mission of providing proactive suicide-prevention and mental health education to the community, Boucher told LoqanSquarist on the café’s sun-drenched patio.
“May, for us, is really about challenging ourselves to check in with one another, check in with our friends and family,” he said. “But also take it as an opportunity to get more educated, get more information on the subject matter… May being mental health month is amazing, but it’s what we do with the opportunity.”
In the year since Sip of Hope opened its doors, the coffeehouse has quickly become a neighborhood favorite. On May 6, it earned “best coffee-shop” honors in this year’s LoganSquarist Best of Logan Square awards. And the shop’s been busy. Since May of 2018, Sip of Hope has served over 20,000 customers and distributed over 46,000 mental health resources, Boucher said.
“After a year, there’s so much to be proud of,” he said.
The café not only raises revenue for Hope for the Day’s ongoing mental-health education and other programs (100% of proceeds go to Hope for the Day), but it also serves as a dependable resource itself, Boucher said. You can find materials for mental health services across Chicago at the café entrance. (Those include a Lifesavers Manual from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a Veterans crisis line cards, and Hope for the Day’s “It’s OK Not to Be OK’ stickers and pins. Materials are available in English and Spanish.)
“We’re present. We’re here, we’re not hiding. And this is not just a one-time thing, or it’s a popup for a month and then we’re gone,” Boucher said. “The doors are open proudly from 6 to 9, because we know that people not only need coffee at all times of day, but people need conversation. People need a place where they can work from. People need places they can depend on.”
You can reach the NAMI’s national suicide prevention hotline 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). Reach NAMI-Chicago’s Helpline at 833-NAMI-CHI (833-626-4244) or via 311.
Fighting Stigma with Education
Across the street from Sip of Hope, at the Logan Square Library branch (3030 W Fullerton Ave.), Hope for the Day hosts its regular mental-health education workshops. Called PEERvention sessions, these 4-hour peer-led gatherings teach the “who, what, where, when, why of mental health, “Boucher said. (Check out the next one, on June 8 at 12:30 p.m.)
Led by community members, including those with lived-experience in mental health and Chicago Public School teachers, the workshops aim to spread knowledge mental health and treatment in the community.
Education is key to Sip of Hope’s mission of breaking the stigma of mental health and suicide prevention, Boucher said. Every year, a mental health condition affects 1 in 5 people in the U.S., and those individuals often face stigma in the form of “rejection, bullying and even discrimination,” which can make reaching out and and getting support challenging, according to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
“I think that for so many people mental health is such a scary topic to talk about, especially when we don’t know how to talk about it appropriately,” Boucher said. “But we just know that people need to talk about mental health, and they need to be educated, because that’s how you eliminate stigma. That’s how you literally trump stigma, it’s amazing, by educating people.”
That’s how you literally trump stigma … by educating people
Mental health and suicide in the U.S. have been called a crisis, with 47,000 Americans dying by suicide and 70,000 from drug overdoses in 2017. But Sip of Hope aims to help get out in front of that crisis, Boucher said. “That’s why our mission is to be proactive about suicide prevention and mental health education,” he said. “So we provide it for free to people all around the city.”
‘It’s OK’ Gallery, Hopeful Beer and More
In addition to the ongoing education workshops, Sip of Hope and Hope for the Day have a full menu of events for May and beyond. (Check out everything going on here.) Earlier this month, the shop launched a hope-themed “It’s OK” gallery with artist Matthew Hoffman at his You Are Beautiful shop (3368 N. Elston Ave.). Hoffman created the big carving of “It’s OK Not to Be OK,” a slogan or takeaway message of sorts for Hope for the Day, adorning the café’s long brick wall. That gallery opened May 19 and will run for a month.
On May 13, the group also released Hops for Hope beer with Old Irving Brewing Co., “the world’s first beer supporting proactive suicide prevention and mental health education.” Cans of the brew list national 24-hour hotline numbers for mental health and suicide prevention, as well as Chicago’s 311. (You can call 311 in Chicago and get connected to the local crisis-prevention lifeline.) Visit Old Irving Brewing’s tap room to try the dry-hopped double IPA. (If you want Sip of Hope’s Dark Matter bag, which similarly comes printed with mental health resources, you can pick that up at the café or at Whole Foods and other grocery stores, thanks to a partnership that dates back to 2013.)
On June 1, Sip of Hope will welcome any and all to the fourth annual Humboldt Mile, a 1-mile run, walk, jog “however you want to get it done” at Humboldt Park, Boucher said. And on July 6, the organization again pairs with its coffee partner for the Dark Matter Block Party. For both events, 100 percent of proceeds benefit Hope for the Day’s programs.
The organization has also expanded its education offerings, with popups in traditionally underserved areas like Chatham, Pullman and West Garfield Park, as well as in Evanston and the suburbs. The organization has launched projects recently to bring mental health awareness to Chicago police officers and those working in the food and drink industry. Hope for the Day also continues to do outreach at Live Nation concerts at Northerly Island, Tinley Park and Aragon Ballroom, as well as at Chicago Blackhawks games.
“We’re also in this business of changing the face of charity, right. We’re a young charity trying to be around for a long time,” Boucher said of those partnerships. “So we have to create unique, sustainable partnerships, which is how we do this. But it’s about doing it together.”
From Loss to a New Mission
The Hope for the Day organization grew out of Boucher’s personal experiences with mental health and suicide. Boucher, who used to work in concert promotion, has lost 16 friends and family members to suicide, and he wanted to do help people facing similar struggles.
“I just know I can’t be the only one. But I’d rather share my story instead of hide,” he said. “And what we do at Hope for the Day is we empower people to embrace their insecurities, turn them into attributes, tell their story about how they fell down and they got back up.”
When his friend and boss in the concert-promotion industry Mike Scanland took his life in 2010, it amplified the experience of losing people he cared about to treatable mental health conditions, Boucher said.
What we do at Hope for the Day is we empower people to embrace their insecurities, turn them into attributes, tell their story about how they fell down and they got back up.
“I just realized that Mike was my Robin Williams. He was the guy who we thought had everything. His nickname was the mayor of Old Town,” Boucher said. ” And sadly, you know… we’re good actors.”
Launching Hope for the Day, to make sure more people know about the support and resources that are available to them, Boucher said, gives him a way to honor his loved ones’ memories.
“I would have loved to have been able to help Mike. Would have loved to have been able to help my aunt. Would have loved to have been able to help my uncle,” Boucher said. “But that’s how I’m helping them now—we’re helping them now. By sharing their story.”
Another close friend of Boucher’s, Jay Michael, a real estate agent and supporter of artists in Uptown, spurred the creation of the Sip of Hope café. Michael, who passed away from cancer in 2016, had told Boucher that Hope for the Day needed to create a social enterprise to provide a sustainable source of funding.
“Mental health is the lowest-funded disease. And we can’t wait for big funding opportunities to solve the problems,” Boucher said. “We have to create those funding opportunities with the community members that those opportunities are going to then serve.”
After Michael’s passing, Boucher started working on the Sip of Hope business plan. “I sat down with my friends at Dark Matter and said, hey, can we do this? And they said yeah, let’s do it.”
Get Involved and Find Help
If you want to get more involved with Sip of Hope and Hope for the Day’s activities, consider volunteering at outreach events. Sign up here, and the organization will contact you when volunteer opportunities arise.
Boucher also recommends that people take advantage, when they need them, of mental health resources in Chicago.Those include NAMI-Chicago; the Banyan facilities for drug and alcohol treatment; and a wealth of alternative treatments, from yoga to music, listed on materials available at Sip of Hope.
For those in need, you can reach the NAMI’s national suicide prevention hotline 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). Find other hotline numbers here. Reach NAMI-Chicago’s Helpline at 833-NAMI-CHI (833-626-4244), available 9 a.m.-8 p.m. M-F, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sa-Su. You can also get referred to the Helpline via 311.
Featured photo: Tom Vlodek