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Hope in Every Bag: How Coffee is Helping Lisa Quinn Change Women’s Lives

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Central City Coffee Sales and Marketing Representative Lisa Quinn. Courtesy photo.

At Central City Coffee in Portland, Oregon, every bag sold translates into a little bit of hope — not for profit, but for the people who might benefit as the coffee operation grows.

The socially driven coffee program is part of the long-running nonprofit Central City Concern. It involves a partnership with the State of Oregon whereby job skills and training in the business of coffee roasting are made available to homeless women — many of whom have experienced drug and alcohol addiction — seeking to make positive changes.

The coffee operation, which experienced a major rebranding in 2018, graduates dozens of women each year, assisting in their transition out of homelessness into gainful employment and toward a better life.

Among the small staff of Central City Coffee is sales and marketing representative Lisa Quinn. A mother of two young boys, Quinn was a participant in the program, with no preexisting knowledge about coffee, before she worked her way into the staff position. Now, through a scholarship with San Rafael-based Boot Coffee Campus, Quinn is about to take her coffee career to another level, developing skills and knowledge that can hopefully translate to more opportunities for other women.

As we mentioned in the first story of this series, the Boot team received nearly 400 applications in the first formal year of the scholarship program, which is designed to help further the careers of coffee professionals who are underrepresented in the industry, or who may otherwise not have the means to pursue a formal coffee education.

Boot awarded the scholarships — each valued at up to $6,000 — in three separate categories: Social Enterprise, Producing Country, and Women/Non-Binary. Here is our conversation with Lisa Quinn, the recipient of the Social Enterprise scholarship (note: Portions of some answers have been shortened for clarity):

Daily Coffee News: Can you describe your personal journey in coffee to this point?

Lisa Quinn: I’m a former homeless drug addict. When I decided to get clean, I was referred to Central City Concern for employment services. I was a single mother of two small boys and I was receiving cash assistance from the State of Oregon… I hadn’t worked for six years prior to being employed by Central City Coffee, and due to my past, I had a lot of self-esteem issues and a huge lack of confidence. Central City Coffee helped to support me and to remind me of the person I was prior to my addiction. The training and guidance I received rebuilt my skills and confidence. The program taught me that I was worth something and that I could be trusted and responsible. I fell in love with Central City Coffee, and I love that through selling coffee I can change the lives of other people for the better.

With the training/education received through this scholarship, how do you hope to further your career in coffee? What specific skills are you hoping to develop and how do you plan to apply them?

I want to learn as much as I can about coffee. I want to be able to taste and smell the differences in coffee and I want to learn coffee vocabulary so that when I’m out selling it I can be confident in my abilities. I have been doing cuppings lately and I want to be confident and knowledgeable when training other women in our program.

What are one or two of the most pressing issues you see in the coffee? Do you see it as an avenue for positive social or economic change? Or, in other words, what potential or end goals do you hope to realize through your work in coffee?

For me, coffee is all about positive change. Our training is built around our ability to sell good coffee. The more coffee we sell, the more women we can train, which means the more lives we can help improve.

What’s your coffee drink of choice?

Four-shot Americano with room for cream.

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