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Serenite culinary student talks about recovery experience

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    Richard Sisson, who works at Serenite Restaurant and Culinary Institute, tells Medina County Commissioners Tuesday that he’s straightened out his life after years of addiction.



Richard Sisson, who works at Serenite Restaurant and Culinary Institute, tells Medina County Commissioners Tuesday that he’s straightened out his life after years of addiction.


MEDINA — Describing his recovery, a Medina resident said he was speaking from the heart.

“A year ago today I was at the height of my opiate addiction,” Richard Sisson, 38, told Medina County commissioners at their meeting Tuesday. “I was pretty bad. I was losing my family. I went to a treatment facility and started putting my life back together.”

It was about that time he heard about the Serenite Restaurant and Culinary Institute, which opened last month, and made the decision to turn his life around.

“Do I want to make $11.50 an hour the rest of my life or do I want to learn a craft and how to better my life?” he asked.

Sisson is one of 10 students at the restaurant who is being paid $9 an hour to learn the culinary business. He recently learned how to make sauces for the restaurant’s French cuisine menu.

“It’s not just cooking french fries and hamburgers,” Sisson said.

Community members have criticized serving alcohol at the restaurant, and Medina City Council this week passed a resolution against transferring the liquor license from the former Medina Steakhouse and Saloon at 538 W. Liberty St. to Serenite. The Recovery Center of Medina County also is housed in the building.

At the meeting, Teresa Snyder, of Chatham Township, said she dislikes alcohol being served at the restaurant.

“We want these people to get better, get back into society and be strong. We need to support them and not put them in harm’s way. … There are a lot of restaurants that don’t serve alcohol.”

Sisson said the fact the restaurant has an extensive wine list doesn’t faze him. He’s there to learn.

“The last thing on my mind when I go to work is a mixed drink,” he said. “Is it there? Of course it is. It’s a restaurant.

“If I want to have an alcoholic beverage, I can make the choice to do that. I can go down to Sunoco. I can go down to BP or I could go to Applebee’s. These things are in our life. With the structured environment we’re in, we’re not thinking about that. We’re there to better our lives.”

He said he was a dangerous addict but that’s behind him now.

“I got a year sober,” Sisson said. “I’ve already accomplished a lot.”

Brandon E. Chrostowski, CEO and director of operations at Edwins Leadership & Restaurant Institute in Cleveland, said he fashioned Serenite after Edwins, with one difference: Instead of working with recovering addicts, Edwins employs former prison inmates.

“About 30 to 40 percent of those people also have addiction problems at Edwins,” Commissioner Adam Friedrick noted.

Sisson said he owes much to the people running the restaurant and recovery center.

“They’ve showed me nothing but love and kindness,” Sisson said. “We can’t do it alone. We need help.”

Jess Hazeltine, executive director of the recovery center, said Sisson’s success story is one she’s heard repeatedly in the last few weeks.

“It’s amazing to hear these stories,” she said. “It’s amazing to see what happens when you invest in a human being.”

Sisson said he derives inspiration from his children.

“My 6-year-old son is seeing his dad become a better person,” he said. “That’s priceless. I walked out of the house (recently) with tears in my eyes. I see the change for the first time in my life.

“I’ve suffered through this for 18 years. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m driving again. Every bill in my house is paid. My daughter is an honor student. She is a senior at Medina High School. She’s going to college next year. I just bought my daughter a car.”

“These things aren’t possible without the help of these people in this program,” he said. “These things aren’t possible without the help of (Alcohol Anonymous) and (Narcotics Anonymous). This would not be possible without the probation department. I’m back to me. (I’m) back with my family. Trust me, you don’t want me in the community on drugs.

Commissioner Bill Hutson said he initially had concerns about serving alcohol at the recovery center. He since has spoken with Medina County Common Pleas Judges Joyce V. Kimbler and Christopher J. Collier, who described the spectrum of recovery.

“At the beginning of the spectrum, they are very vulnerable,” Hutson said. “Then they move along to a point where they are less vulnerable and able to start dealing with society. What is transpiring at Serenite is at the full recovery end of the spectrum, where they are able to deal with the pressures of society.”

He said the judges pick the individuals who are participating in the program.

“The court system decides who is an appropriate candidate and who is not,” Hutson said.

Some people in recovery are attending meetings on the weekends at United Church of Christ, Congregational, 217 E. Liberty St., and are less advanced and further down on the spectrum.

The recovery center received a $300,000 grant from the state to get it off the ground.

“I understand the folks at the state of Ohio are very interested in the development of the program and the outcome so they can assess it,” Hutson said. “It is something that is being looked at as a model to help other people on the spectrum.”

“This program is definitely going to change lives,” Sisson said. “Brandon is a very smart man. He not only talks the talk. He walks the walk. It will work.”

Contact reporter Bob Finnan at (330) 721-4049 or rfinnan@medina-gazette.com.

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