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Jerry Henderson measured coffee beans at Switch Coffee Collective. Henderson had struggled finding work after leaving prison and was assisted by Mission: St. Louis, a nonprofit organization to equip men with job training and employment opportunities. His relationship with Mission: St. Louis led to his employment with Switch.
Jerry Henderson measured coffee beans at Switch Coffee Collective. Henderson had struggled finding work after leaving prison and was assisted by Mission: St. Louis, a nonprofit organization to equip men with job training and employment opportunities. His relationship with Mission: St. Louis led to his employment with Switch.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Switch Coffee Collective roasts java with a mission of ending the cycle of poverty, building relationships

Switch Coffee Collective builds relationships to break cycle of poverty

Coffee has changed Jerry Henderson’s life.

After being released from jail, Henderson struggled to find work. His girlfriend gave him a flyer about a Job & Leadership Training program developed by Mission: St. Louis.

“I thought, ‘I’m going to take this whole-heartedly,’” Henderson recalled. And as things unfolded, it turns out this was all part of God’s plan, he said. After completing the program, he was hired by Mission: St. Louis as an intern, and eventually landed a job there in custodial work.

Jerry Henderson, left, talked with Jon Givens, co-founder of Switch Coffee Collective, about streamlining operations. Reflecting on his Catholic faith, Givens said that the work of Switch Coffee comes down to helping people see their God-given dignity.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
That led to Henderson being hired as the first employee of Switch Coffee Collective as a packager. The business grew out of Mission: St. Louis, and is co-located at Mission’s headquarters in the Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood of north St. Louis.

“I love going to work,” Henderson said. “I’ve never dreaded coming here, It’s an amazing feeling to go somewhere and to feel at peace.”

Switch Coffee is born

Switch started in the spring of 2017, the dream of co-founders and friends Jon Givens, a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Shrewsbury, and Mike Eaton. They were in a Bible study group with Travis Folkerts, who who had been roasting coffee at the Bean Tree Cafe in Waterloo, Ill. Folkerts brought the expertise of roasting coffee, while Givens and Eaton had been volunteering as mentors at Mission: St. Louis. Givens later stayed on as the organization’s development director for two years.

Givens was looking to build relationships in St. Louis. He’d been working for the national Life Teen program when the events of Ferguson began to unfold in 2014. Following the news, he knew he needed to become more involved in his community.

“It seemed everybody had an opinion about what did or did not happen in Ferguson, or what should or should not change about north city or what streets you’re allowed to drive by,” Givens said. “I wanted to do something to help develop empathy, and learn what it’s like to walk a mile in another man’s shoes. You can only do that through conversation.”

That’s when Givens’ idea brewed.

“You sit down at a table across from somebody over coffee and just talk and learn their stories,” he said. “I love building relationships and getting to know other people, and from my perspective that’s the only way anything is going to get done. St. Louis has enough non-profits and enough programs, but there’s not enough people that just want to go get to know people and learn their stories.”

For the first year, Givens, Eaton and Folkerts established the company. They roasted coffee in Waterloo and built a customer base that has grown to about 15 churches, and several businesses and cafes serving their single-

Travis Folkerts stared into the air heated coffee roaster as he operated it at Switch Coffee Collective on Oct. 25.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
source coffee beans from places including Colombia and Guatemala. Last month, St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Brentwood became the first in the archdiocese to serve Switch Coffee.

Earlier this year, Switch moved into space at Mission: St. Louis’ headquarters on North Grand Blvd., the old Northside YMCA, built in 1918 and located across the street from the old Sportsman’s Park. One of the old racquetball courts was transformed into a roaster and packaging facility.

Last month, Switch hired Henderson. He’s packaging orders and working toward a role in helping to manage aspects of the business and learning roasting techniques.

Givens said the mission is about empowerment, not simply a hand out. “For one, (it) doesn’t fix the root issue, by giving stuff away,” he said. “Maybe people need a short-term fix and it’s good to help with things like that … but it has to lead into relationship. (It) is not a long-term solution to poverty … and really, nobody wants to feel like a charity case.”

Reflecting on his Catholic faith, Givens said that the work of Switch Coffee comes down to helping people see their God-given dignity. “Everybody is made in the image of God,” he said. “We don’t create jobs and do things in north city to give people dignity. They’re already made in the image of Christ and have that dignity. What we’re trying to do is help them prove to themselves that they have dignity and uncover that.”

Mission: St. Louis

Switch Coffee shares Mission: St. Louis’ goal of breaking the cycle of poverty by building relationships and empowering people to transform their lives, families and neighborhoods. The non-profit organization, which recently marked its 10th anniversary, includes several efforts, including Beyond School, an extended school program for third- through-tenth graders to help them stay on track to graduate from high school; Beyond Jobs, a multi-faceted effort to develop job training and leadership skills, and eventually land jobs with a livable wage; and Beyond Charity, which responds to the current needs of the community, including case management, home repair, tax prep assistance, school support and an affordable Christmas program.

Lydia Harris, left, chatted with Marlene Miller after Mass at St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Brentwood Oct 28. Harris loves the after-Mass gathering featuring coffee from Switch Coffee Collective because “more people are hanging out and it is a great community experience,” she said.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
People who come to Mission who finish their GED have seen a $9,000 increase in yearly income. The Jobs & Leadership Training program has decreased the recidivism rate of participants, leading to a savings of more than $972,000 in taxpayer dollars. In addition, 82 percent of graduates have not received any new felonies or warrants, and 90 percent of graduate fathers feel they connect better with their children and families.

>>Read more

Switch Coffee Co. was started by three men who mentored with Mission St. Louis, and recognized a need to connect men from under-resourced communities to accessible, dignifying and wealth-building work opportunities. To learn more, visit switchcoffee.co.

Mission: St. Louis is a nonprofit organization that focuses on building relationships as a solution to empowering people to transform their lives and fighting systemic poverty in St. Louis. To learn more about the organization, visit www.missionstl.org.

>>Switch at St. Mary Magdalen

On a recent fall morning, parishioners at St. Mary Magdalen in Brentwood filed out after Mass, greeted by a small makeshift coffee bar underneath the stone canopy on the side of the church.

“Good morning, would you like some coffee?” Marlene Miller cheerily greeted Massgoers. “Help yourself to our coffee bar.”

Last month, St. Mary Magdalen became the first Catholic parish in the archdiocese to serve Switch Coffee. Stewardship committee member Tina Hogan said they were seeking new ways of building community beyond Mass. The committee looked at other non-denominational churches for ways in which they engaged with their members, and liked the idea of uniting over a cup of Joe.

The parish was connected with Jon Givens and Switch Coffee Collective. Hogan said they were attracted to the mission of the company “to help people get back on their feet.” The parish needed a place from which to serve the coffee, so they also purchased three handcrafted wood tables from Anew Nature, another St. Louis-based business that grew out of Mission: St. Louis and provides job skills to formerly incarcerated men.

Pastor Father Jack Siefert unveiled the coffee bar on Respect Life Sunday in early October, pointing out that both companies share in a mission that is most definitely pro-life. “Both of these places are giving people a chance to re-establish themselves into society,” he said. “We respect life, and want to help people get back on track.”

Parishioner Lydia Harris stayed after Mass with her husband Neal Octave, and their daughter Nahla, and talked to other churchgoers. While in the past, she might have just headed for the car after Mass, the coffee bar has allowed them to linger and get to know other parishioners better. “It’s a great social experience,” she said.

— Jennifer Brinker

>>Catechism on equality
“Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all men have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all therefore enjoy an equal dignity.
The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it: Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.
On coming into the world, man is not equipped with everything he needs for developing his bodily and spiritual life. He needs others. Differences appear tied to age, physical abilities, intellectual or moral aptitudes, the benefits derived from social commerce, and the distribution of wealth. The “talents” are not distributed equally.
These differences belong to God’s plan, who wills that each receive what he needs from others, and that those endowed with particular “talents” share the benefits with those who need them. These differences encourage and often oblige persons to practice generosity, kindness, and sharing of goods; they foster the mutual enrichment of cultures: I distribute the virtues quite diversely; I do not give all of them to each person, but some to one, some to others… . I shall give principally charity to one; justice to another; humility to this one, a living faith to that one… . And so I have given many gifts and graces, both spiritual and temporal, with such diversity that I have not given everything to one single person, so that you may be constrained to practice charity towards one another… . I have willed that one should need another and that all should be my ministers in distributing the graces and gifts they have received from me.
There exist also sinful inequalities that affect millions of men and women. These are in open contradiction of the Gospel: Their equal dignity as persons demands that we strive for fairer and more humane conditions. Excessive economic and social disparity between individuals and peoples of the one human race is a source of scandal and militates against social justice, equity, human dignity, as well as social and international peace.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church #1934-38

>>Catechism on human solidarity

“The principle of solidarity, also articulated in terms of “friendship” or “social charity,” is a direct demand of human and Christian brotherhood. An error, “today abundantly widespread, is disregard for the law of human solidarity and charity, dictated and imposed both by our common origin and by the equality in rational nature of all men, whatever nation they belong to. This law is sealed by the sacrifice of redemption offered by Jesus Christ on the altar of the Cross to his heavenly Father, on behalf of sinful humanity.”

Solidarity is manifested in the first place by the distribution of goods and remuneration for work. It also presupposes the effort for a more just social order where tensions are better able to be reduced and conflicts more readily settled by negotiation.

Socio-economic problems can be resolved only with the help of all the forms of solidarity: solidarity of the poor among themselves, between rich and poor, of workers among themselves, between employers and employees in a business, solidarity among nations and peoples. International solidarity is a requirement of the moral order; world peace depends in part upon this.

The virtue of solidarity goes beyond material goods. In spreading the spiritual goods of the faith, the Church has promoted, and often opened new paths for, the development of temporal goods as well. And so throughout the centuries has the Lord’s saying been verified: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. For two thousand years this sentiment has lived and endured in the soul of the Church, impelling souls then and now to the heroic charity of monastic farmers, liberators of slaves, healers of the sick, and messengers of faith, civilization, and science to all generations and all peoples for the sake of creating the social conditions capable of offering to everyone possible a life worthy of man and of a Christian.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church #1939-42

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