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Fargo woman returns to Tamaqua coffee inspiration

Even though she was on vacation from her job at Hope & Coffee, Stephanie Johnson spent her time visiting Hope & Coffee.

Only she wasn’t at her place of employment, she was at the coffee shop in Tamaqua.

Johnson works at the Hope & Coffee in Fargo, North Dakota, more than 1,300 miles away.

“I love this place so much. I love this mission. It has done so much for me,” Johnson, of Fargo, said. “I wish there was one in every state.”

The Tamaqua Hope & Coffee opened in 2018 with a mission to support and normalize recovery from addiction. The Fargo site is modeled after it and opened last year.

The place was just the right fit for Johnson, who was in recovery for just over a year when she secured a job as a barista.

It’s been one of the most rewarding moves she’s ever made, she said.

And that’s why she began planning a trip to see the “sister” Hope & Coffee in the borough.

“I love Hope & Coffee Fargo. I love the mission. And I wanted to see where it started, where its roots are,” Johnson said. “And I said, ‘Yep. We’re going to Tamaqua.’”

She and her labradoodle, Gemma, 2, left home last week, spent some time in Michigan, and arrived in the area Tuesday evening.

“It’s so beautiful here with all the mountains. Fargo is flat,” Johnson said. “Everybody here is so welcoming.”

Wednesday’s lunch was at Hope & Coffee, and on Thursday, she sipped an ice coffee while talking about how her past brought her to the Tamaqua site.

Johnson, 39, said her addictions began when she began drinking alcohol as a teenager. She found methamphetamine about 6 years ago.

“I was a meth user for a few years. I told myself that I would never use heroin because I knew I would like it too much,” Johnson said.

But after so many years of using methamphetamines, her body began to break down.

“I was just in so much pain but I wasn’t able to stop,” she said.

She was offered heroin and didn’t hesitate to “try” it.

“It took two weeks and I was physically addicted,” she said.

Johnson had injected meth - and so it was her preferred method for using heroin.

“It’s a different animal. Different modes of ingesting a chemical affect differently, if that makes sense,” she said.

Injecting is the most potent way.

Johnson had been using the drugs for almost 8 years. One day came as an unexpected awakening.

“My mom had lent me her credit card to get gas and cigarettes. I took out $500 for my habit, knowing that she would see the statement,” Johnson recalled. “When she did, I broke down and I told her.”

Up until that point, Johnson had been hiding her addictions from her mother.

“The words she said that broke my heart were, ‘After all I’ve done for you?’” Johnson said.

Johnson knew she’d disappointed her mother. She knew she was scared for her daughter.

“She said, ‘You know, the next thing to come is an overdose.’” Johnson recalled. “My mom, my mom is amazing. She’s my rock. She’s my support. She’s always been there.”

At that moment, she realized what she was doing to her mother and her drive to be clean was never stronger.

Johnson celebrated 2 years of sobriety in June.

Working at Hope & Coffee in Fargo has helped her feel grateful and blessed for the life she is living today, she said.

“I get so much out of working at Hope & Coffee,” she said. “I get to talk to individuals who are new into sobriety, and those who have been sober for years. I get to talk to families who have loved ones struggling with addiction.

“It fills my soul. If I can tell somebody my story, or give them a little bit of hope. Like the slogan goes, ‘Come for Coffee. Leave with a Little Bit of Hope.’”

Stephanie Johnson, right, of Fargo, North Dakota, stands with Ryleigh Ford at Hope & Coffee in Tamaqua. Johnson is a barista at the Hope & Coffee in Fargo and drove across the country to see where the coffee shop with a mission to support recovery started. JILL WHALEN/TIMES NEWS