Higher Grounds: Volunteers needed to make a difference in the community

Above: Higher Grounds Espresso Bar Manager Elisabeth Melvin is looking for about five more volunteers to join their team.

by Stephen Dafoe

Higher Grounds needs additional daytime volunteer staff who can help the non-profit coffee shop continue its work of serving the community with a little coffee and a lot of compassion.

“We are looking for daytime volunteers that have the heart to want to help,” said Higher Grounds manager Elisabeth Melvin, adding that the volunteerism can be as minimal as pouring a cup of coffee to being a listening ear that reaches out to those struggling in the community who find the coffee shop a safe place to be.

“I know for myself when I am behind the counter; my goal isn’t just to get the person’s order done,” she said. “You are constantly observing where they are at. You can tell if people are hungry. You can tell a lot within seconds. It’s just having those skills to not be afraid to get into a bit of the awkward with people.”

Among the many customers who walk through the door each day, there are some who cannot pay. The secret for Melvin and her staff is being able to serve all while removing any shame those without funds may have.

“I’ll often offer it before they ask,” Melvin said, noting she will often call them by their first name and ask if she can get them a cup of coffee. “They feel that sense of belonging. I’m welcoming them in. I think everyone needs a sense of belonging, and I want them to feel that here.”

Subtle though it may be, even the coffee shops chairs denote comfort rather than a fast turnover of customers.

“The goal is not for you to come in and get out. It’s to come in, settle in, be known, have discussions,” Melvin said. “If people are shut-ins, they can hopefully find some friends. To me, that’s very important.”

Every week, Melvin and her staff see a variety of situations: people coming for a latte to go, students needing a bit of support on a rough day at school, people coming asking for prayer for a sick relative or friend, and the extreme heaviness of women wanting to leave an abusive relationship.

Melvin said she and the volunteers have connections with most of the groups in town, including Family and Community Support Services, the Food Bank, Midstream Support Society, Jessica Martel Memorial Foundation, and Victim Services. They are resources they will sometimes turn to in their mission to help members of the community.

Through it all, the beverages served are often just a vehicle to connect the community for a simple conversation over a quick cup of coffee, or for much more in-depth discussions that lead to getting much-needed help for those in need.

“If you want to make a difference on the front lines with people’s lives, this is one of the places that does give an opportunity for that,” Melvin said. “If you are interested in making a difference with the elderly, we have that. We have youth, troubled youth, recovering addicts, and your typical business person that is human and having a bad day.”

For Melvin and her staff of community-minded volunteers, there is more to the job than adding the right amount of foam. It is lifting the spirits of everyone who walks through the door.

Melvin said there is currently a need for about five more volunteers who can work one four-hour shift per week.

Those wishing to help Higher Grounds on their mission can contact Elisabeth Melvin at elisabeth@tfhchurch.ca, call 780-266-5282, or drop into the shop for a chat.

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