Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Jamina Bone gets closer to pouring her neighborhood a Cup on the Hill

A new coffeehouse concept in Strawberry Hill has a clear social mission.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 2, 2013 at 8:00 AM

Bone has big plans for Strawberry Hill.
Jamina Bone could use a cup of coffee. The artist is trying to raise funds and support for a Kansas City, Kansas, community center, employment training office, art gallery, school and coffee shop. All of these endeavors, she explains, would be together in one place: A Cup on the Hill.

"I used to joke with friends, whenever they complained about their jobs, that they should just quit and start a coffee shop," Bone says. "Because we need a coffee shop in Kansas City, Kansas. But now I'm the one opening it."

Bone, who is in her 30s, intends to open her nonprofit, social-mission coffee shop in downtown KCK in the spring. She has been working on her idea - using on-the-job learning to help break cyclical poverty among disadvantaged kids - since she left her position as a special-education teacher at the Derrick Thomas Academy last April.

"I wasn't able to do everything that I wanted to do," Bone says of her three years at the charter school. "There are so many demands as a teacher that I just didn't have the chance to help these kids in the way I wanted to."

The way she wants to help involves a three-step employment-training program, designed to last from six months to a year (depending on the needs of a given participant), with the coffee shop at its center. Potential employees, between the ages of 16 and 25, will start as volunteers: sweeping, cleaning and learning social skills. She'll assess the students' abilities and move them to paid employment as they progress. The final phase would help A Cup on the Hill's young workers find employment elsewhere in the community.

"This is about empowering our disadvantaged youth," Bone says. "It's about having a place where they can become real, productive members of society."

Bone, who lives in KCK with her husband, Lennon Bone (the drummer for Ha Ha Tonka), says she grew up poor in Erie, Pennsylvania, and still remembers what her first job - sweeping floors and holding lights at a photo studio - meant to her as a teenager.

"It was the opportunity to not only make money but see people who I thought had money and be in that world for a little while," she says. "I just want to give people the same opportunity to let them see how they fit into the world."

The main room in the coffee shop may double as a gallery, displaying work from local artists. In the shop's office space, mentors will work with teenagers on job-interview skills and résumé writing. Bone sees A Cup developing in a fashion similar to that of Fresh Grounds, the St. Paul, Minnesota, nonprofit coffeehouse that provides work training for formerly homeless youth.

"I love coffee," Bone says. "But this isn't just about the coffee. People come to a coffee shop to have a conversation. It's a place to build a community."

And she believes that starts with local goods. She plans to use Royal Drummer Gourmet Coffees, one of the products from KCK roaster Action Coffee Services. The coffee menu has been designed to feature a range of preparations, including drip, espresso, pour-over and Turkish. Bone says she'll throw a tasting party a month before the joint opens, so she can finalize which blends to stock.

"We want to invite the neighborhood in to tell us what they want," she says.

In addition to coffee, Bone wants to serve a small, rotating menu of entrées - she points to YJ's Snack Bar as a model - with sensitivity to gluten-free and vegan diets. And she has her eyes on a baked good that used to be a neighborhood staple.

"It's time to bring povitica back to Strawberry Hill," Bone says.

In talks to lease a space just outside the Strawberry Hill neighborhood, she also has secured fiscal sponsorship from the Young World Foundation, a Kansas City, Missouri, 501(c)3 organization that focuses on youth leadership and philanthropy. Bone is the vice president of that nonprofit, and its president, Debrina Wright, serves as A Cup on the Hill's secretary.

"I think we can help my neighborhood and these kids," Bone says. "We just have to start talking."

She's free for a cup of coffee any day.

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