Purple Door Coffee Helps Denver’s Homeless Youth Learn Valuable Job Skills

Coffee cup and coffee beans on old wooden background

For many coffee shops, the nature of their business alone allows them to give back to needy communities: an estimated 90% of the world’s coffee production occurs in developing countries like Honduras, meaning that your cup of espresso is helping create jobs in areas with few other economic opportunities. However, other cafes also strive to help a little closer to home. Take Purple Door Coffee, located at 2962 Welton Street, for example: this royal-hued coffee shop is staffed by young people who have been homeless, giving them the opportunity to learn a number of valuable skills.

In recent years, Denver’s homeless population has increased significantly, especially the number of young people. Last summer, Urban Peak, a local nonprofit that helps people aged 15 to 24 who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, reported that they had seen a 153% spike in clients with no stable shelter. Other organizations, including the Denver Salvation Army, have noted similar increases. Purple Door Coffee is seeking to combat this trend: founded almost two years ago, the business takes in three teens or young adults at a time and gives them a job for one year. Over the course of these 52 weeks, the shop teaches these employees a number of practical skills, including budgeting, banking, customer service and cleanliness, that can help them find other work in the future.

However, Purple Door Coffee is about more than java and espresso: the business is designed to serve as a space for employees to improve their physical, emotional and mental health. The organization’s very name reflects this commitment to well-being and self-esteem, as purple has historically been used to represent royalty. Purple Door Coffee’s founders, Madison Chandler and Mark Smesrud, say they want every person who enters the shop to feel like royalty, whether they are an employee, customer, or a vendor.

Former interns at Dry Bones Ministry, an religious organization that helps support Denver’s street kids, Chandler and Smesrud were able to move forward with assistance from their former employer and other Denver-area charities. Today, their project operates as a non-profit organization specializing in job training. The success of their work can be seen in their impact on their employees: one graduate of their program has since landed a full-time job at Starbucks.

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