But First Community: The Power of Partnership

By Bill White

“Could I share my artwork in your new coffee shop?”

“Can my yoga studio run a yoga and coffee event with your coffee shop?”

“I’d love to donate dishware for your coffee shop.”

“Maybe you could make a menu for dogs at your coffee shop.”

I’ve heard all of these in the past few weeks. And the irony is, it’s not my coffee shop. I just happen to volunteer as the community liaison. But when you post pictures of the new neighborhood coffee shop through the entire construction process, when you invite submissions for the logo contest, when you give out over a hundred tickets for free coffee to your neighbors… they end up thinking the coffee shop is yours. 

The truth is, the coffee shop is ours.

Partnership is Power

A neighborhood artist chipped in her skills for the backdrop to the little stage where we’ll host poetry slams and mini concerts, and it sums up Wrigley Coffee’s approach:

But First Community

Local artist @arielnwilson in front of ‘our’ decor

At every stage of Wrigley Coffee’s development, the community was involved. The opening dream of the conversation started when two leaders from our little church were walking and talking in the neighborhood, and one of them (Andrew Nishimoto) wondered out loud if the boarded up building on Eucalyptus and Willow could become a coffee shop.

Andrew then pulled together some neighbors for dinner to talk out the dream. The community kept expanding, growing wide from the logo competition with dozens of submissions and hundreds of votes, and growing deep when the furniture assembling party got crashed by a dozen neighbors (including 3 professional chefs!) who’d whipped up homemade dishes and desserts for the workers.

Around Small Church Big Table, we talk a lot about shared power, or to use Brené Brown’s phrase, “Power with instead of power over.” The way that works out on the ground is figuring out how to partner openhandedly with all kinds of people and organizations. It means not controlling all of the outcomes or even all of the processes.

One Yes Leads to the Next

When a generous out of state donor told our little church that they wanted to buy a home in our neighborhood to be used for families facing housing insecurity, we jumped all in. The first thing we did was pull together a diverse team, which included someone who’d emerged from housing insecurity, someone who worked in city management and someone who ran a homeless services nonprofit – all who had a heart to see this sort of thing succeed.

With all their wisdom it didn’t take long to find a great place… and to discover that we had no idea how to run a home like that. Enter our incredible partner, Family Promise of the South Bay.

Family Promise actually knew the ropes, had done this sort of thing before, and was willing to partner with us and the donors of the house. We wrote up a simple Memorandum of Understanding between the church and Family Promise and another between the church and the donors, and we were off and running. (Ok, we’re calling it simple – the lawyer on our board certainly made it as simple as she could. Yet another amazing partner.)

But we didn’t know how good partnership could be until Andrew Nishimoto (mentioned earlier), who serves as the Executive Director of Family Promise, was walking the neighborhood with a friend and started dreaming out loud about building a coffee house that could provide trauma informed employment for some of the families coming out of our community house.

Vision is Inviting

Everyone likes a good coffee shop, but people go bonkers for a coffee shop with vision. On the wall in the community room (how great to have a coffee shop with a community room!) are painted these words:

“Through high-caliber, trauma-informed, professional development and hands-on learning at Wrigley Coffee, individuals facing housing insecurity develop mindsets and skills for sustainable careers, economic mobility, and enrich their community by providing quality, specialty coffee and community space to the Wrigley neighborhood. Wrigley Coffee is a program of Family Promise of the South Bay, a nonprofit helping families achieve housing stability.”

Now the parents of the families living in our community house have a place to learn job skills – and to do so in the kind of environment that takes into account the trauma of their background – so that they can begin to provide permanent housing for their families.

Because of this vision, our little church has donated a ton of time, money and talent to help make this coffee shop a reality – and so have so many of our neighbors. Over 1200 people were following Wrigley Coffee online before it even opened! 

The coffee shop had its grand opening last week, and I’ve been there every day so far, connecting with neighbors, having meetings, buying coffee. (Not for me – I don’t even drink coffee!) I haven’t been alone in there once. Every time I’ve been there, I’ve talked to Andrew Nishimoto, to the staff who are now becoming friends, and to at least one neighbor. 

It’s like I own the place.

(Featured image info: The building mural was painted by talented local artist @sergileto.)