October 2, 2008

Dominicans open HOPES Center on Sixth Street

Ann Pratt OP, Lisa Kane OP, Melissa Taylor and Linda McClenahan OP

The Racine Dominicans opened their new coffeehouse and fair trade store on Sixth Street this week, just in time for Party on the Pavement and the Sixth Street Art Walk this Saturday.

Located in the space formerly occupied by the Racine Arts Council -- 505 Sixth St. -- the sisters have turned the storefront on its head, installing a service bar and coffee shop on the right, and a retail store on the left. It is an attractive, open space, with brick walls on either side. And it's much more than meets the eye, with a focus on alleviating poverty here and around the world.

The Just Trade retail store and the Cup of Hope coffeehouse serve double-duty. Yes, they are both what they seem -- but they are also an extension of the Racine Dominicans' ministry that began here in 1862 when the first sisters taught German immigrants.

"We are very aware of the needs and concerns here; we have a long-term interest in the city," said Linda McClenahan O.P., executive director of what is called the HOPES Center. "Today we have people living in poverty, and we have skills to help people move beyond poverty. We are also very aware that 20- and 30-year-olds are searching. We want to create a space where they might find answers to their questions. Spirituality, poverty, education are each a piece of it."

And so, underlying the store and coffeehouse is the foundation of a social entrepreneurial ministry. "People want their work to have meaning, something that brings about good," said McClenahan.

The HOPES Center -- it stands for
  • Healing
  • Opportunity
  • Peace and Justice
  • Ecology
  • Spirituality
-- will also have a counseling office, for mental health and substance abuse issues, and will offer Reike, Yoga, massage, Tai Chi and other healing arts as an adjunct to traditional counseling. And there's a classroom for Fair Trade education and for local groups to meet. "We encourage all of that because we are very interested in building community. As a society, we're in need of hope," she said.

The retail store and coffeehouse each have paid managers, but both will be staffed as well with volunteers. "Giving people the opportunity to do meaningful volunteer work benefits the community," McClenahan says.

Casual customers may be unaware of the Racine Dominicans' role in the store. "People are not as aware that there are sisters these days," she said. "We're not running around in habits. But we want to be engaged with people, bringing God's love into the world." There are 145 Dominican sisters in Racine, and about a third of them live out in the community where the problems are. She herself lives on 13th and Villa.

A lot of effort -- and knowledge -- have gone into creation of the Hopes Center. McClenahan, for example, is a "second-career" sister: before she became a Dominican eight years ago, and added the Order of Preachers designation to her name, she had a career in retail and restaurant management. Lisa Kane O.P. is another second-career sister working on the project; she was an inventory control specialist for 20 years who also has retail experience. And, as a non-profit, the center has received CBDG and HUD grants (and was also supported by two "humongous" rummage sales this summer that raised almost $3,000.) The center has a "mentor store," in Bloomington, IL, that has carried out the same mission for 30 years.

There's also a board of directors; its chair is Carol Wester O.P., former principal of St. Catherine's High School. McClenahan is also an Americorps/Vista volunteer working on poverty issues.

But what you'll see when you visit the store is home-baked treats and a coffee maker in the coffeehouse half, and colorful hand-made goods from around the world in the retail store. Each of the items for sale has a story:
  • Bright and cheerful greeting cards were made by children orphaned by the Rwandan massacres;
  • Baskets, above, were made by women in Ghana who gather the straw, dry it, make it into artistic baskets;
  • Purses, when examined closely, turn out to be made from old juice boxes, carefully woven by women in the Philippines;
  • Bath salts and soy candles were made by women in a Chicago homeless shelter;
  • Angels of Hope, like the one below, come from Guatemala.
"Anything we can do to benefit the world, benefits us," McClenahan said, noting that she's trying to get products from all over the world: Thailand, India, Africa, South America , Cambodia -- and closer to home: "The women of HALO, Racine's Homeless Shelter, make pillow cases," she said. "We can sell them, too."

Fair Trade certification is carefully monitored. First, there's Equal Exchange, an international company for the fair trade of coffee, tea and sugar, which helped the Hopes Center with technical support. It works to be sure the people who grow the crops are treated with dignity, and make a living wage. And the International Fair Trade Federation has a list of 200 certified vendors all over the world. McClenahan has done her homework.

The retail store isn't fully stocked yet, but already has had customers -- and positive feedback. Someone walked in this week and said, "There's just tremendous energy here."

And they've barely opened...

3 comments:

  1. I visited the store while attending Party on the Pavement. What a wonderful addition to Racine, and it has just opened. There are many lovely items just exactly right for Christmas gifts.

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  2. Urban Pioneer10/14/2008 9:52 AM

    I wish they would have opened this place somewhere closer to the Bus terminal or the HALO center. That way all the Homeless folks wold wander over that way. Were trying to urge the homeless and the street urchins away from our Downtown.

    But I'll be sending some of those folks over your way.

    Please folks there are several businesses offering the same products in our community on a "for profit" basis. Ask your self should we replace YOUR job with a Volunteer?? Try paying your heat bill or mortgage with your "Volunteer" income..

    I have nothing against the Dominicans, but I see a "free competitor" which could destroy or dilute the other businesses in the market. I think there are 6 Coffee shops Downtown already.

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  3. The Hopes Ministry is a much-needed resource in our city, and there is something for everyone there! Fair Trade store has a lovely selection of items and provided me with an opportunity to purchase gifts w/o the guilt of "spending" one so often feels. The coffe shop is nice as well, and I have heard the counseling and other services are getting off the ground as well. It does seem to me this is a win-win for all involved.

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