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For nearly four years, Street Bean Espresso has been working hard to provide effective and life-changing opportunities for street-involved young people in Seattle.
They also happen to make great coffee too.
I recently spent some time visiting and learning about their program and call tell you that they have created a beautiful space that works as both a training ground for homeless youth learning a new craft and providing excellent coffee to their customers.
As a city, we continue to struggle with homelessness. Current estimates point to about 2800 homeless people in King County, many of them children and teens.
Transitioning to stable housing, employment, and a new direction can be very difficult for many young adults.
Street Bean Espresso has created an effective system to recruit, train, and work with Seattle’s street youth – and turn them into great baristas and confident individuals with a brighter future.
And their success is evident. They have worked with nearly two dozen youth – working on a variety of skills and completely impacted these lives in a positive way.
“We are social enterprise that is very much geared towards being sustainable as a business but at the same time our primary bottom line is providing opportunities for street involved and homeless young people from Seattle streets,” said Jesse Davis, Executive Director of Street Bean Espresso.
While they are 501c3, Street Bean Espresso is a subsidiary of New Horizons Ministries, which has worked with Seattle’s homeless youth for the last 30 years – providing point of contact drop- in area – meals, clothing, showers, case management services, life discovery classes and now training and job opportunities.
One of the biggest barriers to moving off the street is employment – which is hard because of negative histories, addictions, trauma, or housing issues.
The café is continuing to work to be self-sustaining. In fact, at the time of this writing, they are about 85% to being completely self-sustaining. The critical 15% comes from support from New Horizons or personal and private donations – some as little as $25.
To work around funding issues, they have creatively created internships and apprenticeships programs which have been effective in working with teens.
Street Bean Espresso has been involved in changing the lives every day. I really hope you can simply support them by simply buying a cup of coffee.
Sometimes when we here that something is a “non-profit” we might get some preconceived notions about the space. In fact, it is a very handsome café with beautiful lighting, sharp angles, restored and reclaimed wood, and modern equipment. Many customers, I suspect, wouldn’t even realize that it is a non-profit but go there because of the great coffee, service, and atmosphere.
“I think it’s a beautiful space… I love this space… its modern and pretty minimalistic with reclaimed wood,” Jesse added. “The first time I came Street Bean I was blown away about the design… and coffee we were serving… all of it is very professional and top notch.”
Here is my recent conversation with Jesse from Street Bean Espresso:
What inspired the development of Street Bean Espresso?
SBE was birthed out of New Horizons Ministries, which has been working with homeless and street-involved young people in Seattle for more than 30 years. Employment is one of the biggest barriers that young people face when trying to exit street life, and staff at NHM wanted to develop a sustainable business that could provide job skills training and employment services to young people in their continuum of care. Thus, SBE was born.
What kind of success had you had since you opened?
We often find that success is dependent on how you define it. For most people I think success is often defined in numbers and statistics, usually with an emphasis on quantity. For us, we are much more about quality than quantity. We are about depth over breadth, because we believe it is what's best for the young people we serve. Transformation takes time, it takes effort, it takes energy, and it takes community.
Because of this, we've had incredible success partnering with the young people who come through SBE in forging a path off the streets of Seattle. Over the last two years, 9 of 10 graduates have not only moved on to successful future employment, but have transitioned to sustainably living off the streets (they are independently providing for themselves, have housing, etc.).
We have also seen great success in being a great coffee shop. We are now at the point where 85-90% of our expenses are covered by sales revenue, while the remaining 10-15% is covered by a handful of individual donors and long-term supporters. We strongly believe in providing an excellent cup of coffee for our community because we know that without a great product, we will not be self-sustaining as a business. Besides, who wants to be a part of a training program making mediocre coffee? We want to provide our young people an opportunity to be a part of something that they can be excited about, be proud of, and reach a level of mastery with.
How have you seen lives transformed in the process?
I have seen some incredible transformation over the last few years. And not just within young people's lives, but within my own as well.
I have seen self-conscious, shy, and wary young men and women grow into confident, out-going, comfortable-in-their-own-skin individuals who work incredibly hard. I have seen young people who, out of fear of failure, choose not to take anything seriously – even self-sabatoge opportunities – bloom and transform into young leaders that help train others and run the cafe. I have seen hopelessness turn to hope. I have seen fear turn to courage. I have seen obstacle after obstacle conquered in ways that most would deem impossible.
Ultimately I believe it is the community space here that allows those things to happen. It is the day-in and day-out of working here at SBE in a supportive community that offers grace when appropriate and holds accountable when necessary that offers the opportunity to these young people to discover what they have to bring to the table. And I am blessed to be a part of it.
How important are these second chances to transform our communities?
Incredibly. Just in the fact that we have seen so many of our young people turn away from the streets and toward a brighter future is reason alone. That's 9 young lives that are now on a completely different course than they were previously (and, I should clarify, we're not the ones that altered that course. They had already made their own choice to move beyond the streets. We just provided an opportunity to do so).
But more than just the reclamation of lives, these second chances are incredibly important for the rest of the community as well. Customers, vendors, business partners, tourists, regulars, staff, volunteers, donors – all of us partake in this transformational community by stepping into this space (SBE). Suddenly you have young people interacting with the business owners and residents whose doorways they were sleeping in in ways that are entirely redemptive and life giving. Suddenly in this space we are able to see each other for who we all are – humanity, created for community.
How can you help Street Bean Espresso?
1. Share Their Story!
2. Drop by, visit, and grab a great cup of coffee (See Map Below)
3. You can donate.
Visit their website at StreetBeanEspresso.org
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