How Coffee Helped Us Minister to Homeless Youths

In a diverse neighborhood in Pasadena, California, lattes are changing lives.

Rev. Dan Davidson came to Pasadena as pastor of the First Free Methodist Church of Pasadena, CA, but when that church closed its doors, he stuck around. Commissioned and ordained to relaunch the church (now Rose City Church), Pastor Dan is committed to staying in their current neighborhood.
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HOMELESS YOUTH IN THE CHURCH PARKING LOT

It’s a diverse neighborhood both racially and socioeconomically. About 50% of the residents are caucasian, and 50% are other ethnicities—mainly African-American and Hispanic. Bounded by both local income housing and affluent neighborhoods, its residents range from well-to-do families to homeless teens.

When Pastor Dan drove up to the church to reopen it, he was greeted by several of those homeless teenagers sleeping in the church parking lot. Many of them were 18-22-year-old “transitional-aged youth” (TAY) who had grown up in the foster care system and aged out when they turned 18. They had no support system, few job skills, and little hope. But they quickly became a central part of Rose City Church’s ministry.
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LATTES AND LIFE SKILLS

Before the old church had closed, it has used a portable coffee cart to attract younger visitors. Dan dug out the cart, fixed it up, and transported it, along with some of these homeless youths, to events. There, Dan’s barista friends trained these transitional-aged youth in the craft of making coffee. They also taught essential transferable job skills like economic wisdom, the dignity of work, responsibility, and accountability. The hope was to train these youth for 5 to 6 months to get them ready for employment and then help them find gainful employment.

That was 4 years ago. Now, 16 youth have graduated from this training, which is run by  Rose City Coffee, a ministry of the church.   All 16 of those young adults have landed jobs, whether in coffee shops such as Starbucks or in other workplaces like Home Depot.  Their training has not only taught them vital skills—it has also built up their self-esteem and sense of worth.
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PARTNERING TO SERVE THE WHOLE COMMUNITY

In late 2017, Rose City Church opened a for-profit coffeeshop, Rosebud.  Since the church is not the center of community life in Southern California, Rose City Church wanted to create a “3rd space”—a space where diverse neighbors bump into each naturally.

Pastor Dan sees Rosebud and Rose City Coffee as two links in a chain.  Together, they partner with other social services providing housing, education, and mental health services to minister to the whole person. In Pastor Dan’s words, it truly takes a village approach, and Rosebud and Rose City Coffee are two of many villagers ministering to these young people.

Pastor Dan sees the impact of their training often.  When one of the young trainees sees the pleasure and delight of their customers after taking a sip of coffee, these young people see that they can contribute something to society. They experience the truth that work is primary about contribution and not compensation.  (For more on this core teaching, check out Tom Nelson’s new book,The Economics of Neighborly Love.)

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