Changing Lives One Cup of Coffee at a Time

10 June, 2015

Denver, Colorado is one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. It also has one of the biggest populations of homeless young people. A Denver coffee shop is seeking to resolve the problem. The Purple Door Coffee Shop employs and trains homeless young people, giving them a second chance to make a new start.

Kevin: "Welcome! What can I get for you guys?"

For many years of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee. He is also working to move off the streets and into a home.

"It is a struggle to get a job even when you have a house nowadays; but when you don't have a house trying to get a job it is so much harder."

What makes it a little easier is the mission of the Purple Door Coffee shop. It does not just serve a cup of coffee; it turns lives around.

The owners of the two-year-old nonprofit hire three to four young adults per year. Shelters such as Urban Peak, where Kevin was staying, recommend young people who are ready to commit to working.

Kim Easton, who runs Urban Peak, says the partnership between the shelter and the coffee shop is important.

"When someone has lived in chronic stress and trauma for as long as these young people have, every day fighting for survival, they haven't had the opportunity nor the example of how to learn conflict management, how to manage money, how to cook a meal, how to pay their rent on time, or why that is even important."

Those skills are exactly what employment at Purple Door offer.

Madison Chandler is a co-founder of Purple Door. She and her partner meet with their workers individually each week. They talk about topics ranging from mental health, finance, hygiene and customer service. They also provide a life coach to make sure the workers have the support and skills that will set them up for success.

Madison Chandler says at the end of Purple Door's first year, their four graduates were ready to start a new part of their lives. The experience at the coffee shop helped them get jobs.

"Our very first guy that ever graduated from the program, he has been working at a auto parts warehouse since he left, which has been over a year now."

Kevin recognizes that he is learning what he needs to leave the struggles of homelessness and learn the skills to live a full life.

"They seem to have the philosophy that they, they, don't want to change us, they want to help us change ourselves."

Kevin says he is used to being kicked out of stores and treated with disrespect. Now, for the first time in his life, he is being trusted with money, handling food and enjoying conversations with customers. In the short time Kevin has been in the program, he says it's already giving him the support, love and opportunity he and many others without homes need but are denied.

"It has been so helpful just to have structure and to have, like, a purpose and a goal that is, like, tangible."

For Madison Chandler, providing these young adults with employment and education and helping them become confident and independent is the most rewarding part of her job.

"The most rewarding thing is watching somebody start to believe in themselves and to believe that they can achieve a life for themselves that they have dreamed of or to believe they are worth it even."

As for Kevin, who turns 25 this month, living in a home and having a job to come to will be the best gift he can give himself.

I'm Marsha James.

Paula Vargas reported on this story from Denver, Colorado. Marsha James adapted it for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.


Words in This Story

hygiene – n. the things you do to keep yourself and your surroundings clean

deny (ied) – v. refused to give something to someone

tangibleadj. able to be touched or felt