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Homeless with a Twist of a Homemade Lavender

by Svetlana Papazov

I was visiting Southern California and heard of a coffee shop that offered uniquely crafted flavors and a faith and entrepreneurship story as touching as the fragrant petals sprinkled in their lattés. As a coffee lover I had to see the place. As a pastor I had to interview the church leaders who started that enterprise. I drove to Rose City Church in Pasadena to meet with the leadership and hear their story of neighborly love and economic impact.  

Church and Homelessness

When Pastor Dan Davidson re-opened Rose City in 2009, he became concerned about the group of homeless youth who camped out on the church’s grounds. With one of the largest community colleges in Southern California just a block away, he was not surprised to find homeless youth sleeping in the church parking lot.

He began to engage the teens by offering food and clothes, but this increased the number of youth coming—and that upset the neighbors. Realizing he had to help in a better way and that there was a gap in supportive services, Pastor Davidson found an old coffee cart on the church property and began training the youth to get jobs in the area’s growing gourmet coffee industry. They lovingly named this coffee cart Rosebud.

Church and Homemade Lavender

Rosebud traveled around LA, empowering homeless and transitional-aged youth as they practiced their newfound craft—serving an amazing cup of coffee. Rosebud’s work has led the church to establish a permanent cafe in Pasadena, which they named after their little cart. Today, the body of believers continues to persist in their mission of crafting coffee, community, and cause. Pastor Davidson says:

Our story matters deeply to the residents of Pasadena. A progressive city with more than 1,000 nonprofits, we had no trouble finding our loyal and supportive customers as the first social enterprise cafe. And though our story may draw them to the shop, it’s our hospitality that keeps them coming back. Not only do we seek to be one of the best coffee shops in town, but we also, and more importantly, seek to be the most beloved coffee shop in town. It’s our gift of hospitality and community served alongside a beautifully crafted latte with homemade lavender syrup that keeps our sales numbers growing.

Homeless youth are taught job skills in a caring, hands-on mentoring environment. Rosebud pairs one barista to volunteer his or her time with youth, anyone from eighteen to twenty-five, who then trains at the brick-and-mortar location for four-to-six months. Through the training, Rosebud works with its partner nonprofits to help find housing units to keep the young employees off the streets and to identify additional vocational training opportunities.

Church, Craft and Human Dignity

The youth-trainees take special pride in learning the flavor profile of the different coffee beans and crafting a delicious cup of java. It is often something profound that happens when the transitional-aged youth make their first cup of coffee for a client who then pays and thanks them for their services. It is as though a rebirth of their human dignity ensues.

These young people often have been given necessities for living, because they have lacked fundamental resources, but they have never been asked to contribute. The moment they are recognized as bona fide creators and contributors of value in the marketplace, something within them is unleashed. They can see themselves as givers instead of takers, as producers of goods and services that others appreciate, and that helps them dream of a hopeful future.

Pastor Davidson sums it up well: “These youth have been given many hand-me-downs, but that only have exacerbated their low self-esteem. When they were asked to contribute at the Rosebud Café by creating specialty coffees, using their training to recognize complex coffee flavors that is when they have come alive. They take pride in being able to work and contribute value to society.”

Church—a Bridge to the Sacred and Secular Divide

Rose City Church bridges the sacred and secular divide in the marketplace. Asking the transitional-aged youth to work and create value in the local economy honors both their human dignity and their creative streak, which bears the image of Creator God. There is nothing more empowering to a person than to be given the opportunity to create cultural goods and services, and to shape the economy by doing honest work. Rose City Church models the practice of integrated faith.