At Rosebud Coffee, Pastor Davidson is brewing more than good coffee, he’s helping develop productive futures for at risk youth.
By Peter Segall
It grew out of a very immediate need. When Pastor Dan Davidson arrived to re-open to Pasadena branch of the Free Methodist Church, there was a group of young homeless people living just outside its doors. They had, according to Pastor Davidson, figured out how to access the amenities of the church. “Very resourceful” he says with a laugh.
Naturally, he wanted to help and began offering services traditionally offered to the homeless by churches, giving food, allowing for use of the facilities. But that soon grew unwieldy. Something of a tent city sprouted on the church grounds and neighbors began calling the police.
Davidson and his congregation had to re-evaluate. Fortunately however, the church’s previous pastor had purchased a rather expensive coffee kiosk with all the amenities necessary for brewing and serving coffee. A new idea began to grow. What if they could use coffee to help these young people?
But helping the homeless is a daunting task. Davidson realized “working with youth straight from the street was not going to be helpful.” The church began partnering with larger local nonprofits who provided services like housing and healthcare by offering job training in coffee making.
Rose City reached out to youth nonprofits like the Los Angeles Youth Network, Pacific Clinics and Youth Moving On who linked the church with young people transitioning out of homelessness.
With some help in coffee making from Handsome Coffee Roasters and volunteers from the community at Fuller Seminary, Rose City Church was able to launch Rose City Coffee in 2012. The coffee kiosk at the church (dubbed “Rosie”) was too bulky to transport easily, so a smaller, more mobile coffee cart was built. A smaller version of Rosie, they called it “Rosebud” (not, as most people assume, a reference to “Citizen Kane.”)
Many young homeless people grew up in the foster care system, where instability was simply a fact of life. Many young people who end up on the streets do so because they lack many of the basic skills needed to function in the working world.
Stephanie Sharp, manager of Rosebud Coffee explains, “A lot of people who are young, or are homeless and have been in the [foster care] system, haven’t had people to hold their hand through life, through certain rites of passage, through a first job.” Many of these young people have to create their own paths, often on a day to day basis. “ That’s not what the working world is” she says. “It has a set level of expectations that you have to follow in order to just keep your job. Not to excel at your job, but to just keep it. And those are things that, if you’re coming from a survival-based background, you’re not going to be equipped with.”
Since 2012, the program has graduated 14 youth from its coffee training program, which Stephanie Sharp says, may seem like a small number but it’s been “eye opening how long it takes to train someone…time and patience.”
But it’s work that pays off. Pastor Davidson says that about half the students have gone on to get jobs in local coffee shops. For the others, brewing coffee “wasn’t their cup of tea, or coffee rather.” But even if they don’t go on to work in coffee shops, the skills they learn are the basic interpersonal and organizational skills that allow them to get jobs elsewhere.
After a few years of the coffee cart Pastor Davidson began thinking about a brick and mortar establishment. In the past they had been dependent on local coffee shops to hire their students after they completed the training, but there’s a lot of competition there. To make the program sustainable and provide that final piece, Rose City Church opened Rosebud Coffee on Colorado early this year.
Right now, they only have four employees, but they’re hoping to expand providing what Sharp calls “those little wins that become stepping stones.”
Homeless just last year, Charlene Long has found housing and stability through her work with Rosebud Coffee.
Charlene Long grew up in the foster care system in Los Angeles. She was working as a security guard, often working long hours, but the work was intermittent, and so was her stability. When she heard about Rosebud Coffee, she was, she says, “in-between houses, then I was homeless in my car.” But then someone at Youth Moving On told her about Rosebud Coffee, and she jumped at the opportunity.
“It just happened so quick. Just being there, just…man, I learned so much about drinks.” The experience for Long was transformative. “It feels like a 10-year difference compared to where I was,” she says.
“Last year, March 12th, I was homeless on my birthday, in my car…I never thought in a million years that I’d be here.” She recently moved into her own apartment in Los Angeles.
“I don’t have to worry about anything, you know, being rained on. I had this little crack in my window…the rain would come in and soak me, soak my entire seat. So you have to get creative in situations like that.”
Of her time with Rosebud Coffee she says, “What it’s done for me, it’s given me a sense of home, it’s like a second chance. I was homeless, sleeping in my car. Next thing you know, here I am.” -P.S.