United States

Berkeley Cafe Gets $63,000 Grant to Expand Refugee Aid Program

A Berkeley-based coffee shop was awarded a $63,000 "Opportunity For All" grant by the Starbucks Foundation this week, allowing the small cafe to expand its barista training program that aids refugees. 

1951 Coffee Company, which opened in January, is a nonprofit coffee store that supports refugees, asylees, and Special Immigrant Visa holders by training them to be baristas. Located less than a mile from UC Berkeley's campus, the quaint cafe has helped train more than 50 immigrants who are new arrivals to the U.S., the company said in a statement announcing the grant. 

The nonprofit is one of 41 companies that have been awarded the grant from the megalith coffee chain, according to the Starbucks Foundation website. Businesses that specialize in youth, veteran and refugee training were among the other recipients. 

At 1951 Coffee Company, the funds will help the burgeoning cafe expand its program to other cities, including San Diego, and train an estimated 85 new baristas. It will also allow the company’s two-week training program in Oakland, which currently runs every other month, to increase its services to a monthly-basis.

Due to language barriers, culture shock, and discrimination, it's often difficult for refugees to find work after coming to the United States. Federal and state grants given to resettlement charities don't stretch far enough to cover a lengthy adjustment period, so finding work — and finding it quickly — is often crucial to the refugee or asylee's success in the U.S, according to Catholic Charities of the East Bay, which helps with refugee resettlement. 

"Refugees possess exceptional qualities and determination in creating a new life, but there are few options for immediate placement when they don't have local references," 1951 Coffee Company co-founder Doug Hewitt said. “The specified training connects refugees to countless career opportunities, and it also welcomes them into the local coffee shop.” 

Eighteen-year-old Batool Rawoas, a Syrian refugee who was one of eight immigrants working at 1951 Coffee Company in January, told NBC Bay Area that the store was helping her navigate and become more comfortable in the Bay Area community. 

"I didn't learn only how to make coffee, but I'm learning how to communicate better with these people," the young woman said. "I'm learning more about this culture, even more English." 

In an interview with NBC Bay Area when the store cafe first opened, Hewitt said that the pressure of work can add stress to an already arduous resettlement process — especially as anti-immigrant rhetoric pours out of the federal administration. Finding a company that is accommodating and understanding can make all the difference, he said. 

"We try and do different things, but sometimes it's just monitoring what's happening at the time, and talking to them, giving them an extra break if they need it," Hewitt said. "...It's important that they have a place where they can talk to one another and share their experiences." 

Contact Us