SALVATION ARMY’S UNIQUE SOCIAL MINISTRY PROVIDES DRINKS, MUSIC AND MORE
In Cleveland, TN, The Salvation Army’s Inman Street Coffeehouse serves many functions. It’s a full-service coffeehouse, music venue, ministry center, hangout for young adults and the homeless, business opportunity for high school and early college interns and art space.
“We call ourselves a social ministry of The Salvation Army,” said Manager Joel Rogers. “We don’t have any of the traditional spaces for afterschool programs and engaging with students here, but we can accomplish the same end goals of building relationships with students with the coffeehouse.
“We’re raising awareness for the Salvation Army in the community, and we’re inviting participation in the Salvation Army’s mission in a way we haven’t been able to before.”
Joel and his wife, Cheryl, shared their coffeehouse ministry vision with The Salvation Army seven years ago. They met Sgt. Ruthie Forgey, who was in charge of building a Salvation Army corps in Cleveland, and told her their desire to reach youth and their experience doing that at a North Carolina coffeehouse.
After their meeting, they fell in love with The Salvation Army and began attending Bible studies and worship services. They didn’t begin working for The Salvation Army with the coffeehouse and as youth directors until two years later, once the Army had a building to call its own instead of borrowing spaces. The building was more than the corps needed, so it gave part of the space to create the coffeehouse.
“It’s great visibility,” Rogers said. “Right downtown, within a mile of Lee University and within a couple miles of both of the bigger local high schools. At that point we knew God opened this door for us; there’s no other explanation for it.
SELLING COFFEE AND THE SALVATION ARMY
The Inman Street Coffeehouse opened with a weeklong soft launch on Sept. 28, 2011, followed by the grand opening Oct. 4.
“We have a full line-up of coffee drinks,” Rogers said. “We serve all the classics: cappuccinos, mochas, lattes. We also have frappuccinos, though we call them freezes. We have coffees, teas, smoothies and Italian sodas. We’ve got baked goods that are baked in house.
“We have some things we’re really known for that nobody else does. Our best-selling drink is the Black Tie Affair. It’s a mix of chocolate and vanilla chai, a shot of espresso and steamed milk. We can also do it frozen.”
Currently, as at other coffee shops everywhere, the pumpkin spice latte is wildly popular. (“Every young, college age female within a 100-mile radius, when we announced the pumpkin spice latte was back, lined up that day!”) Other fall drinks are an all-natural version of that, caramel apple cider, pumpkin white cocoa, The Great Pumpkin latte (white mocha with pumpkin), pumpkin spice chai, Cinnabun chai, a pumpkin smoothie and butterbeer and s’mores freezes.
The coffeehouse also does a lot of customizing, with lactose and sugar free versions of almost everything, which it does not charge more for because it’s not customers’ fault they have medical issues, Rogers said. The goal is to be mindful and help people make better choices.
The shop also allows people make better choices for the world. It has coffee from around the globe that it gets from a roaster in Minneapolis, who does direct trade, which is a step above fair trade. This takes out the coffee trader middleman. The roaster travels to farms directly, which gives about 10 times more money than the regular $1.25 per pound income to the coffee laborers.
“If we can really change someone’s life around the world, I think that’s a mission the Salvation Army really gets behind,” Rogers said. “We were passionate about this from day one: we never want to serve a coffee that may be more cost-effective for us but takes advantage of someone in poverty on a different part of the globe.”
The drinks get patrons in the shop. After that, the staff uses the opportunity to tell people about The Salvation Army and the good it does. Some people come away as supporters, going on to contribute financially and/or physically to other Salvation Army endeavors. Some, though, come away as more and enroll asSalvation Army soldiers, with some of those going on to becomeSalvation Army officers.
“We see ourselves as the missionaries of The Salvation Army into a whole new populace,” Rogers said. “High school and college kids have no idea what The Salvation Army stands for or that their desire to be part of a movement that’s seeking justice in the world could actually be satisfied by an organization that’s old and has issues staying in touch with the younger generation. When they hear what all the Salvation Army does, they’re blown away.”
Besides coffee, music brings a lot of people to the coffeehouse. It has hosted more than 400 shows, some of which even move from the coffeehouse space into the corps’ worship center to accommodate more fans.
“We asked a band to come and play for our grand opening. Because they had such a following, we had more than 100 people crammed in, so we decided to do it again. We’re the only true music venue in Cleveland. We have shows nearly every Friday and Saturday, hosting local and national touring acts.”
A big part of the music is open mic nights. One popular local band that has gone on to become a touring act got its start at an open mic. The Giant and The Tailor didn’t win that night and almost quit but came back a month later and has played ever since. Now, the band has awards, nominations and an EP in the iTunes International Rock Chart Top 50.
The Salvation Army uses the open mics to raise funds for its youth programs and summer camp scholarships. People vote for the bands they like with money, which goes to The Salvation Army for that. The open mics regularly collect $150 or $200, Rogers said.
“They give people a chance to participate in the vision. It’s a place for them to sponsor our mission in a real, tangible way.”
The coffeehouse also hosted “American Idol” season 14 runner-up Clark Beckham before and after “Idol.” It was the first place outside of church the former Lee University student played in his career. He returned for last year’s anniversary concert and will perform in this year’s, which has become a music festival, in October.
Phoenix Fest, so named because of the phoenix in the Inman Street Coffeehouse logo (“We see this as a place where people can rise from the ashes of the things they’ve been through and really become something new and different because of Christ and this place.”), runs Friday, Oct. 21 from 5 p.m. through Saturday, Oct. 22. It will have two national headliners each night, plus 15 local bands.
“We’re super excited about it!”
It will also include student testimonials and local Salvation Army officers discussing programs during music breaks, plus several awards, including Coffeehouse Volunteer of the Year and Band of the Year. Coffeehouse interns will be on hand selling concessions.
The 16 interns are high school and early college students who have been recommended by teachers or leaders in their lives as students with a lot of leadership potential who haven’t had a chance to learn life or job skills. During their internship, they will serve at least 350 service hours in three different customer service settings (office, retail and food service), plus find a need in the community that speaks to them and meet it.
“The internship program is really the hinge pin of our program,” Rogers said. “It’s this super cool way to use the coffee shop as a conduit for helping others. The coffee shop gives them a tangible way to learn in a safe environment, so when they go out, they’re actually more equipped, more hirable. They can get more than an entry-level job because of their experience. Plus, they have an awareness of the Salvation Army they’ve never had before.”
Students who come to the coffeehouse, either to work or as a customer, meet Cleveland’s homeless. Sometimes the two groups just talk, but sometimes they share a board game or other activity.
“Here, everyone is given their fair shake at being part of the community; it doesn’t matter what socioeconomic level. We’re not a homeless outreach or a college outreach; we’re both. Because of that, it’s this really unique dynamic.”
In the future, The Salvation Army hopes to expand this dynamic to other places with the coffeehouse. Rogers said they’re looking at a potential second location in Cleveland, and they plan to eventually expand the mission and the vision of the coffeehouse to other towns.