The History of Project CoffeeHouse
Since its inception nineteen years ago, Project CoffeeHouse has had a single mission, variously expressed: to maximize the chances that young people may develop lives of joy and purpose.
When Lu Ann Potter founded Project CoffeeHouse in 2000, her immediate impetus was an alarming spike in heroin use among the young of Clinton County. There had been narcotics raids at the local arcade, and many front-page arrests. Her aim in starting Project CoffeeHouse was to become an occasion whereby young folk might discover ways and means of feeling good that wouldn't kill or incarcerate them before they were 20.
Music and great food, film and writing workshops, tutoring and free music lessons. After school snacks, sit down dinners four nights a week, complete with candles and cloth napkins. Not only was there stuff to do, there were people to be with: caring adults and a growing cadre of their peers in whose company they experienced, many for the first time, the sense of felt community.
After the PJCH storefront was closed in 2006, the work continued ad hoc, addressing the focused needs of individuals: buying clothes for an interview, fronting the money for a security deposit, providing short-term housing and employment.
For a period of several years, Project CoffeeHouse partnered with The Omega Institute in NY, one of the premier holistic learning centers in the United States, in hosting a succession of young people on their Rhinebeck campus. Project CoffeeHouse provided transportation on numerous four-hour treks to the Hudson Valley, while the Omega Institute offered free meals and lodging for our weekend introductory visits. A goodly handful of these young people went on to be employed as seasonal staff at Omega, an extraordinary opportunity to experience a wide and varied community of people joined in service to a worthy mission, “...to awaken the best in the human spirit.” The Omega Institute honored Project CoffeeHouse in 2011 by inviting us to join the other dozen non-profits which the Institute hosts each year for three days of on-the-house retreat for staff and board. We were the only small, out of state non-profit to be thus honored.
There weren't all that many 'measureable outcomes' from the early chapters of Project CoffeeHouse. But there were a lot of nights when a hum of something passed through the place that made the house look up as one. Nothing extraordinary was happening: kids at the computers, kids talking on the sofas, strumming a guitar, stirring their tea—just a regular night, through which a hum of something became suddenly palpable. It could be called a lot of things: peace, contentment, calm, connectedness. We called it CoffeeHouse Magic, and no one had to ask why.
In 2013, the St John Lutheran Church planted a powerful seed: they initiated a one-day-a-week summer lunch program for the children of Montgomery PA, which became known as Summer Alive. As Project CoffeeHouse became involved, the program grew, and a partnership with the USDA was formed to underwrite the costs of supplying wholesome food to children. With the St. John Church feeling the need to retire from active steerage, Project CoffeeHouse stepped up and adopted the entire program as its own in the fall of 2016.
There were many immediate reasons why a respected organization with a duly maintained non-profit status would be an asset to a fledgling program, not the least of which is that the high aims and goals of Summer Alive are in exact and perfect alignment with the mission of Project CoffeeHouse: to maximize the chances that young people may develop lives of joy and purpose.