Those who’d like to see the proof of the RenGen theory in Reno have to look no farther than the Hope Café on Virginia Street. This company illustrates innovative forms of collaboration among disparate groups to benefit the community: A nonprofit entity, Women and Children’s Center of the Sierra, collaborates with the government, particularly the Community Work Experience, CWEP program, which collaborates with artists and artisans, which collaborates with the most vulnerable citizens to create an pioneering business model that helps individuals, families and the community around it.
It’s somewhat similar to the concepts that inspired the Spread Peace Café, see Foodfinds, page 18, but with a more formal relationship among the government, nonprofits, workers and community.
Plus, you can get a pretty good fair-trade mocha or tea and some friendly conversation.
When I pulled up to the café, the signs on the windows read, “Closed.” I parked anyway, and by the time I made it to the door, the signs had been reversed. It was the Monday after Christmas, and nobody was moving too quickly.
The day manager, Tina Spomer, was behind the counter. Her daughter, Christina, 12, was helping out around the café, too—school being out and all. Her other two girls and son would arrive shortly on the RTC bus. Ms. Spomer poured me a cup of regular coffee while the espresso machine heated up, having been turned off for the four-day holiday. The restaurant does not just serve coffee and tea, but also sandwiches, soups and specials of the day.
While getting the café ready for the day, watering the wilted basil, and counting down the register, Ms. Spomer gave me the highlights about how the café operates. She’s been working there since August, shortly after the café moved from its original location, then called Dragonflies Cafe, on Vassar Street.
Essentially, she said of the cafe, “We help women.” Women who are on public assistance must work a certain number of hours in the community for the privilege of receiving “welfare.” By working in the café, the women gain skills to join the workforce—running the register, preparing food and drinks, customer service, operating the gift shop, cleaning floors.
But it’s not just about job skills. Women and Children’s Center of the Sierra provides these women with life skills, like GED, parenting, health and nutrition classes, free legal counsel, and advice on how to rebuild credit. The Hope Café is also the main fundraising arm for the Northern Nevada Diaper Bank, which provides diapers to low-income children, developmentally disabled people and senior citizens.
The café has a comfortable atmosphere, with the occasional affirmation—“You are the hero of your own story,” “Think Big,” and “Take Pride”—peppered on the walls. The colors are hues I’d find in my garden in fall—tans, greens and oranges—with a tiled floor. There are 11 seats arranged around mosaic-topped tables. I wandered into the gift shop, which was filled with crafty gifts like bath products, bird houses, hand-painted furniture, locally made art and books and teas. Ms. Spomer sang to the popular country music that was on the MP3 player behind the counter.
Turns out, Ms. Spomer is no longer on “welfare.” She got off government assistance at the first chance she had, only remaining on it for about three months. She has since been volunteering at the café.
“I really, really love this place,” she said as she made a co-worker the second mocha latte of the morning, her daughter furiously texted her siblings, and Lady Antebellum sang, “Need You Now.”