The Denver coffee shop that introduces immigrants to America is in danger of closing

Emily Griffith Technical College’s refugee and immigrant program is in danger after being denied funding.

Eliphaz Kenge, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, baristas at Emily's Coffee inside the Emily Griffith Technical College, June 15, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Emily Griffith Technical College; north capitol hill; refugee; coffee shop; kevinjbeaty; denver; denverite; colorado;

Right inside the downtown Emily Griffith Campus is Emily’s Coffee. For years, this Denver coffee shop has helped refugees and immigrants like Diana Dmytrychenko make the transition to the United States.

When Dmytrychenko immigrated from the Ukraine two years ago, the immigrant and refugee program at Emily Griffith gave her valuable work experience and taught her how to make it here.

“We immigrants, we really need to find some support here,” Dmytrychenko said. “We feel alone here.”

The program was funded through a three-year grant from the Department of Education, but when Emily Griffith recently re-applied, the technical college was turned down. Now they are in need of $50,000 by June 30 in order to keep the program running.

About the program:
Lead trainer and manager Kristopher Rainer instructs Eliphaz Kenge, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, at Emily's Coffee inside the Emily Griffith Technical College, June 15, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) Emily Griffith Technical College; north capitol hill; refugee; coffee shop; kevinjbeaty; denver; denverite; colorado;
Lead trainer and manager Kristopher Rainer instructs Eliphaz Kenge, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, at Emily’s Coffee inside the Emily Griffith Technical College, June 15, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Emily’s Coffee employs recently arrived refugees and immigrants. These people are given an opportunity to work as baristas in the coffee shop.

“All of the people are new to the country,” said Kandyce Pinckney, program director at Emily’s Coffee. “They come from Iraq, Nepal, Israel, Mexico.”

Students involved in Emily’s Coffee’s program are not only diverse in their backgrounds, but they are also diverse in their age. Refugees and immigrants who have been involved in the program have ranged from 18 to 60.

Students learn a variety of work skills when working at Emily’s Coffee. For example, they learn how to make drinks, how to use a cash register, how to give change and how to follow food safety regulations.

“I was meeting people, I was serving them coffee,” Dmytrychenko said. “It was really amazing.”

“I think the skills students gain are invaluable,” said Pinckney. “It is a great way to learn work culture and to learn to work in the United States. It gives them an opportunity to learn by doing.”

The work experience opens doors for participants in the program: Dmytrychenko was able to find a job as a barista at the Tattered Cover Book Store.

“I got the experience from school, what they taught me,” Dmytrychenko said. “The instructors helped us build confidence. I was not afraid to talk to people.”

Along with getting work experience, people in Emily Griffith Technical College’s program learn English and skills that make it easier for people to integrate themselves into American culture.

People are taught the importance of arriving to work on time, asking clarification about something they don’t understand, how to call into work sick and how to make small talk.

“The idea was to help non-English speakers have an opportunity,” Kevin Mohatt said. Mohatt is the community outreach coordinator for Emily Griffith Technical College. “This gives them an opportunity to practice their language skills and practice what it’s like to work in an American business setting.”

Program participants also have the chance to apply for scholarships through Emily Griffith Technical College. The school offers a variety of programs such as culinary arts and automotive repair. Pinckney said one barista was hired into an accounting firm by conversing with someone at Emily’s Coffee.

“The outcome is to provide people a pathway to new opportunities,” Mohatt said.

What’s next?
Lead trainer and manager Kristopher Rainer instructs Eliphaz Kenge, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, at Emily's Coffee inside the Emily Griffith Technical College, June 15, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) Emily Griffith Technical College; north capitol hill; refugee; coffee shop; kevinjbeaty; denver; denverite; colorado;
Lead trainer and manager Kristopher Rainer instructs Eliphaz Kenge, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, at Emily’s Coffee inside the Emily Griffith Technical College, June 15, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

You can help support the program by donating to a GoFundMe page created by Shoshana Zohari. Zohari is not connected to Emily’s Coffee or the Emily Griffith Foundation. She created the page because she believes the work Emily’s Coffee is doing is important.

“It’s a proactive and effective way to give people the tools to empower themselves to get a better job and to make the most of their life in America,” Mohatt said.

The school is also exploring other options besides trying to raise funds.

“At this point, we’re probably looking at a business that would be willing to support,” Mohatt said.

“It’s so upsetting,” Dmytrychenko said of the potential closure. “I’m trying to tell other people how it is important, how it was important to me, share my story.”