We had the good fortune of connecting with Colleen Koenig and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Colleen, can you talk to us a bit about the social impact of your business?
Craft coffee, also known as specialty coffee or “third wave” coffee, has built a reputation for itself as a highly exclusive, middle-to-upper class, high brow and at-times pretentious sort of world. It can feel homogenized socio-economically and really inaccessible to particular groups of people. We want to change that. The young adults we work with are struggling to navigate the foster care system, the youth correctional system, poverty and trauma, among so many other tough circumstances. Most don’t have access to transportation, stable housing, professional attire, or healthy adults who can help them navigate an increasingly complex world. Some are just trying to survive a really hard life and the stories you hear will break your heart. Yet I can say with 100% confidence they are as capable as the next person in pouring the perfect cappuccino, upselling whatever fancy seasonal bev is on the menu and serving customers with the most genuine love and empathy you’ll find on this planet. There’s just something special about people who have lived a lot of suffering like the young adults we work with—they are masters of hospitality and belonging. Because they believe no customer who walks into Genesis Coffee is more awkward or wounded or lonely or lost or in need of a hand than the rest of us, the ability to extend compassion is what these young adults do best. That’s the magic of making space for these youth in a world that would rather relegate them to the margins of society—you realize you need them just as much as they need you. There’s no us and them, only us. Service isn’t a one-way street, from “the helpers” to “the helped”—it’s a reciprocal relationship lived out with mutual respect and compassion for one another. This is the lesson these young adults have to teach both the social services and professional workforce worlds—and Genesis Coffee is intent on creating space for them to take up and teach it.

Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Genesis Coffee is a volunteer-run, specialty coffee shop and social enterprise in Fort Collins, CO, slinging some of the sweetest espresso in town while mentoring our community’s youth in job readiness and power skills behind the bar. The youth we work with are historically underserved and often lack access to basic supports and opportunities, making sustainable, successful and independent living a greater challenge for them. Genesis provides a real work environment, with training wheels, so these youth (maybe for the first time in their lives) can connect with a healthy community, learn new skills, gain access to a highly exclusive industry, expand their opportunities, make mistakes and learn from failure in a safe environment that offers a handful of second chances.

Genesis Coffee was founded by Brett Prior in 2015 and in 2019 I took over and founded the Youth Mentorship and Job Readiness Program. Since then a team of 20+ professionally trained baristas have mentored more than 50 youth in our cafe, many of whom have achieved significant life goals during their experience at Genesis—scoring a driver’s license, landing a donated car, getting their first job, working towards a green card, gaining the confidence they need to pursue their dreams and more. It is a gift and a privilege to walk alongside these young adults and witness real-deal growth and transformation.

Many of the skills the young adults we work with are missing are difficult things to learn in a classroom setting, especially when you are neurodivergent, have a high-trauma background, or just don’t connect well with traditional school. Yet these skills are absolutely imperative to success in the workforce and sustainable, independent living post-high school and they happen to be the skills most nurtured and tested in the service industry—things like critical thinking, problem-solving on the fly and communicating with at-times difficult people. For these young adults, life behind the bar is a microcosm of a chaotic world inside the safety of a low-stakes, familiar space. It’s the half-step they need to bridge the gap between adolescence and adulthood and achieve independence.

We recently raised nearly $20,000 to build out a super fly mobile coffee bar from the ground up—it’s created very well-paid job opportunities for the youth who’ve successfully graduated from our mentorship program at the cafe. So far we’ve worked private events like graduation parties, school events, fundraisers and weddings, but we hope to build a consistent schedule popping up around town this summer. The goal with the mobile bar is to carve out high-paying and highly sought-after job opportunities for youth in an industry that typically wouldn’t be very accessible to them. We’re trying to win over some business in the events industry, where there is so much opportunity and financial potential for our youth to take advantage of. When it comes to social, racial and economic justice-making, I do believe a sacrifice of privilege, power and space from the advantaged is necessary to set things straight for those that have been outcast and left out and this is the secret sauce that really gets me excited—sort of a Robin Hood mentality of reclaiming some space from the well-resourced and inviting those who need it most to take it back up.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Well, first I would get them out of the city! I love Fort Collins proper, but we have the best access to get outside that doesn’t include the highway to hell that is i-70. I’d take them on a trail run in Lory State Park, followed by a quick dip in Horsetooth, maybe even busting out the canoe or paddle board. If they were biking-types, I’d take them on the Indian Summer Loop from the Blue Sky trailhead. The American Lakes route is a back/bike packing trip that is the biggest bang for your buck—incredible views and that wild, remote feeling only a little over an hour up the Poudre Canyon. Once we’ve sweated and sunburned adequately, a quick stop by Odell’s fabulous patio for a beer would be in order, along with fish and Chips at the Crown Pub, maybe a peek in at Lucky Joe’s Irish Jam and a movie at the Lyric.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There’s a man named Father Gregory Boyle who runs an organization called Homeboy Industries in LA, which rehabilitates and employs individuals who’ve been caught up in gang life. He’s been a huge inspiration and role model for me in directing Genesis Coffee, and his description of creating access for society’s most marginalized puts it pretty much perfectly. He said, “In Scripture, Jesus is in a house so packed that no one can come through the door anymore. So the people open the roof and lower this paralytic down through it, so Jesus can heal him. They’re ripping the roof off the place, and those outside are being let in.” That’s what Genesis Coffee is trying to do—rip the roof off the specialty coffee industry, and the workforce in general, and let all those on the outside in.

Website: https://genesis-coffee.square.site/

Instagram: @genesiscoffee

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/colleen-koenig-bb477063/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/genesiscoffee15/

Image Credits
Jason Menon Ben Shumate Rob Jackson

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