by Katie Delp
We train our baristas how to brew strong coffee, to whip up Latte Macchiatos and fruit smoothies, and to ring up detailed orders. We also work to encourage “transferable skills,” such as taking initiative, solving problems, and customer service. But lately, I’ve noticed that their on-the-job education goes above and beyond traditional barista skills.
Working at a professional, welcoming coffee shop in our unique community presents opportunities for unexpected encounters. Sometimes you’re serving coffee to minor celebrity from the movie studio down the street and other times you’re listening to a neighbor’s troubles like a local bar tender. In fact, it’s these later conversations that have become so interesting.
When I’m speaking or sharing about FCS, people often ask me about the social services we provide. Our focus is community development, and we often partner with other ministries and programs that offer more direct social services. Many who need help find valuable resources with these organizations.
But there are always people who don’t approach those social service programs. Instead, they ask around. One such customer came into the coffee shop. His landlord kept jacking up his rent, he told the barista. Did she know of anyone who could help him? Our baristas are becoming everyday social workers!
And the good news is that we do know people who can help! After all, we are a nonprofit community development organization, and we are networked with folks who know exactly what to do. It also helps that most of our staff is rooted in the community. Our team can help make valuable connections between customers and local resources.
As I watch these interactions, I am convinced these conversations are another form of dignity created in the coffee shop. Not everyone will walk into spaces where the only explanation for their presence is their need. But in a place of business, everyone has reason to be there. And it means all kinds of people venture inside.
People go where everyone else is going. Then, in this diverse community, help is available to anyone asking around. It’s a very cool dynamic to witness. It’s not necessarily something I expected when we revived Community Grounds years ago. But it’s another beautiful benefit of creating community spaces and bridging gaps between neighbors and businesses.