Project Hope 4 Humanity will use coffee carts to give life skills to youth ages 16 to 24
VANCOUVER — Coffee is king in the Pacific Northwest.
Every corner has a shop, and every shop has a goal, and oftentimes it’s to create quality coffee and make money. Then there’s a different dream. A dream of a coffee shop with another purpose: empower youth and give them hope.
Enter onto the stage of Clark County, nonprofit Project Hope 4 Humanity. It began as an idea two years ago, and now is a budding reality of that dream. The organization’s goal is to provide education and employment opportunities to young people from 16 to 24. They started with coffee.
“I just consistently saw this need for, especially our high school youth, where they just needed support. They needed to know someone cared. They needed to feel like they were a part of something beyond just the classroom,” said President and CEO Paige Uhlemeyer. “And so we’re hoping to really build support for that age demographic. To make them feel successful and supported by our community.”
The organization currently has two sites where they operate coffee carts with professional baristas and interns from the target age range. One cart sits inside the main entrance to Vancouver Community Library downtown, and the other is just inside Legacy High School, next to Evergreen High School.
The coffee carts are a way to provide employment, job skills, mentorship, and increased independence to young people in the area, Uhlemeyer said. Through the process of working at the carts, the interns are also connected with resources to become active community members.
Uhlemeyer, who has worked full time as a teacher since 2011, explained that many of the youth in the target demographic are at-risk or opportunity-driven students. Many in a position where they don’t have a clear vision for their future. Hope 4 Humanity seeks to foster that vision, she said.
Every week, interns and their mentors meet up to do a workshop on health, wellness and personal growth in order to learn how to build community and connections, as well as ways they can seek help and advice in the scenarios of life.
The end-goals of the program is to increase youth employment in the community, increase students’ success in school and achieve higher student attendance and graduation rates.
“If there’s not support for them to get out of the cycle, or to get into the community and to feel successful, sometimes it repeats itself,” Uhlemeyer said. “They want it so bad. They just need to be given the chance, like someone just needs to say, ‘I trust you to do this, and I know you can. So let’s do this together.’”
When working at the carts, interns are initially paid with gift cards, and as they move up in their skills and abilities can become paid and hired. They also receive free SAT and ACT test tutoring through the program.
“I have worked with dozens of nonprofit organizations over the years, and I am most impressed with the organizations executive director and leader,” said Alishia Topper, the Clark County treasurer and a board member for the project, in a statement. “I strongly support the goals to increase graduation rates, independence, attendance, and the employment rate for students Project Hope 4 Humanity serves.”
The path to launching the organization began two years ago with a simple idea pitched to Topper by Uhlemeyer. From there, the two brainstormed and Topper gave insight on how to best gain funding.
In the first half of 2019, the group began the grant writing process, hosted a silent auction fundraiser and formed a relationship with KRXW Radio through and interview. The station and Hope 4 Humanity also hosted a block party to gain awareness.
Through July and September, Uhlemeyer and her team recruited volunteers and interns, to finally open both carts in the second half of August. Starting this month through December, the first youth internship cohort will work and graduate in the program.
Currently, along with the hired baristas, two interns work at the Legacy cart and three at the cart inside the library. Uhlemeyer said she hopes to have another, sixth intern very soon, as well as another barista.
Networking in the community has been an integral part of the organization’s start-up process. All the coffee for the carts is supplied through Kafiex Roasters in downtown Vancouver, and all baked goods come from Sugar and Salt Bakery, also in Vancouver.
“Vancouver’s communities I think [are] highly underestimated or under appreciated,” Uhlemeyer said. “It’s crazy because like, once you’re in it, everyone wants to help everybody, nobody is holding you back. Everyone’s just kind of saying, ‘let me refer you to this person, oh, you need to meet this person.’ So everyone really just wants to make it better, especially for our youth.”
Other area nonprofits, including the YWCA and Gifts for Our Community have offered their support for the project. The executive director of Divine Consign, (the parent organization of Gifts for Our Community), also is serving as treasurer for the project.
“As I have watched her [Uhlemeyer] grow her nonprofit from a seedling of an idea through the sprouting stage and now growing taller I have been impressed with her knowledge, work ethic and desire to fulfill her dream,” said Linda Glover, Vancouver City Council member and executive director of Gifts for Our Community, in a statement. “It is with excitement for Paige that Gifts for Our Community lends it support for Project Hope 4 Humanity.”
Gifts for Our Community is now acting as a touchpoint for donations and funding going to the project. To date, the project has received many in-kind donations and is now seeking out grants and financial support from the community.
Later this month on Oct. 30, Project Hope 4 Humanity will host a community event at West Park Community Room in downtown Vancouver. The family-friendly event will feature a Halloween costume contest and pumpkin painting for children and drinks and treats, provided by Sugar and Salt Bakery. There will also be a happy hour with adult beverages.
The welcoming event will last from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and will have no door fee, but all concessions will be priced for purchase inside. All money raised will go back into the program. Board members, baristas and interns will all be attending the event to meet with the public and share their experiences and progress with the program.
“Sometimes adults want to think that they can’t have high standards for certain kids or youth,” Uhlemeyer said. “When I’ve always realized that if you set the bar high, they want to meet it.”