“I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live.”
— George Bernard Shaw
While most of the United States is baking, Cafe Au Lait is basking in cool.
Under the shadow of Mt. Tabor, on a warm eighty-degree Saturday afternoon, the Saturday market at the non-profit coffee house was bustling. Kids were playing in the sandbox, vendors were selling fresh produce, acoustical music wafted through the air and iced coffee drinks were being poured. All of it housed in a building covered in lively murals that shout out, “You and your young children are welcome. We want you to hang out in this cool place.”
A few years ago, none of this was here.
Around 2004, this lively community gathering spot across the street from an elementary school, was the site of an illegal pseudoephedrine trade, a chemical used for making methamphetamine. It was hidden under the guise of a corner market which also sold cigarettes to minors. After it’s owner pled guilty to drug charges and surrendered the business, it became the property of the federal government.
Kristin, who had a young three-year-old daughter at the time, was one of many neighbors who wanted to reclaim the space for the neighborhood. It wasn’t going to be easy. There were $50,000 in back taxes due, it sat on the site of old gas tanks, and the rules of seized-property dictated that the space had to be opened as a non-profit. That didn’t deter Kristen and so many other volunteers.
Thanks largely to the fundraising efforts of one of her neighbors, they collected nearly $20,000 of the $50,000 needed to acquire the property. The final $30,000 was donated by a single donor who was touched by the story. His daughter had died of a drug overdose, and he wanted to see this idea come to life.
Once the space was acquired, an incredible amount of landscaping was done by an army of volunteers and generous help from the city of Portland. Today, rain water runs into green -scaping rather than over concrete (and looks darn good).
The final hurdle was the non-profit status. The neighborhood volunteers did something unique. They created a full-service coffee bar with a kids’ space that was integrated, not just an add-on. Kristin talked warmly about how difficult it is for parents with young children to be able to go to coffee shops which are primarily designed for adults. This shop is different. It’s built for both kids and adults, and it serves both very well.
Take a moment to watch this short video about their efforts. It took six years and they opened the doors in 2010. Before that day, no one got paid. It was truly a labor of love.
In addition to meeting Kristin and her daughter Sophie, I met several little people including one named Journey. It seemed appropriate to meet someone with such a cool name at Cafe Au Play. After all, I was sitting on a site which has taken such a long journey to become what it is today.
As our Teamworks team ran the art table for the little folks at Cafe Au Play’s neighborhood market, we watched a community gather. Coffee, kids, parents, vendors, musicians, and volunteers all blended under cool, blue skies.
This little bit of Portland hip is still traveling. It’s on a journey to help a community come together and stay free of drugs.
I can’t think of a cooler place to hang out on a warm, summer day.
Yesterday’s gift of time … My daughter Hayle and I helped out at the art table at the Mt. Tabor Saturday market doing fruit and veggie stamps with some neat kids and my awesome Teamworks volunteering team.
Come visit Cafe Au Play with your kids (or without)! You can find them at 5633 SE Division St. in Portland, Oregon. It’s worth the trip!