by Tom Sims
It is the best job they ever had.
It is a fresh start.
It is a chance to add value to other people’s lives and put smiles on their faces.
It is a place to build hope and to facilitate community.
It is a relaxing place with fresh aromas, imaginative furnishings, comfortable seating, books to read, free internet, and delicious coffee.
Cornerstone Coffee Company is a coffee shop on a busy Fresno Street about two blocks from Fulton Mall in the middle of a neighborhood where urban renaissance is evident all around. It is attached to the old Wilson Theater, now Cornerstone Church. In fact, it was gifted by Cornerstone Church to The Light-House Recovery Ministry, a residential program for women battling and overcoming addiction.
The urban renaissance of the community is mirrored in the renaissance in the lives of the women who work behind the counter. Cornerstone Coffee is staffed by participants and graduates of that program and managed by Marina Gaona. Marina has had a number of jobs through the years, but this is her favorite. She is effervescent and ready to tell the story to anyone who will listen.
The mission of the Cornerstone Coffee Company is “transforming lives, one cup at a time.” A sub-title to that mission is “coffee with a cause.”
Marina is assisted by Thomanesha Goins who is equally enthusiastic and ready to share the vision of Cornerstone. Both have experienced the recovery process themselves. Thomanesha was formerly employed there as part of the administrative support.
Light-House director, Vikki Luna, says of both women that they are extremely committed and reliable. More than that, they have internalized the concept that work is ministry.
According to their own literature, “Light-House provides an environment of safety, sobriety, and faith-based living offering teaching, training, and therapy to support women in recovery and engaging them back into the community while emphasizing integrity, responsibility and self-reliance.”
Their short mission statement is “Offering hope, help, and healing to women and children.”
The shop is the training ground for women in the program who must serve a certain number of hours there each week, working and learning. According to Vikki, they build self-confidence and work skills. This is essential because no one graduates without a job. At the moment, seven of the thirteen residents are employed in the community. Testimonies of changed lives are dramatic and encouraging.
On a recent Thursday, I was greeted by smiles and a desire to provide me with a delightful experience which included a cup of coffee, a warm pastry, and an engaging conversation. There are other items on the menu as well. Exotic coffees, teas, salads, bagels, sandwiches, and frittatas are among the offerings. There are also shirts on the wall for sale. These have been artistically designed by the women in the program and are compelling. Their product line is called Light-WEAR.
“Women are trained in all phases of operations within the social enterprise of Light-WEAR equipping them to become more employable while boosting their skills and self-confidence. Designed by women, for women. Adorning both the buyer and the maker.”
Cornerstone is a recipient of recent Spark Tank award through Fresno Pacific University’s Center for Community Transformation. CCT awards grants each year to social enterprises who develop excellent business plans that will benefit their organizations and the community.
The coffee is supplied by Lanna Coffee whose mission and vision have been shared in previous articles. The pastries are supplied by outside vendors. The smiles come from God.
Because of its location, there is a regular clientele of people from a number of walks of life including many who work or do business downtown as well as the growing number of people who are living in this revived neighborhood. I have been there three times, and it has never been without happy customers. Unlike many places downtown, parking is available nearby and is accessible to public transportation.
In spite of the fact that there is a strong and compelling back story to Cornerstone, it does not seem like a program or a ministry when one visits. It is a coffee shop. It just happens to be friendlier, more accommodating, and even joyful than most. There is a spirit about the place, but the message is never in one’s face.
If you ask, they will tell you.
If you don’t, they will smile just as broadly and give you excellent service and delicious food and coffee.
It is worth a visit and open daily at 1463 Fulton St in Fresno.
Call for their hours.
Contact the Light-House at
M-Th: 9am-4pmCA 375
Facebook page for The Lighthouse: www.facebook.com/The-Light-House-155183791207780
Cornerstone Coffee Company Facebook Page with a map: www.facebook.com/cornerstonecoffeefresno
You can find more of Tom’s columns here. Keep up with all of Tom’s writing by following him on Twitter @tomsims