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Coffee shop founder embraces higher purpose

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Emily Schmidt is founder and owner of the Cracked Pot Coffee Shop in Upper Allen Township. She is using the business to help young people coming out of the foster-care system.
Emily Schmidt is founder and owner of the Cracked Pot Coffee Shop in Upper Allen Township. She is using the business to help young people coming out of the foster-care system. - (Photo / )

Emily Schmidt realized early on the power of a good cuppa joe and an easy smile.

By age five, she had taken it upon herself not only to make the coffee for company, but to serve it as well. By the time she was a tween, her dream came into focus and she envisioned that one day she’d operate her own coffee shop.

As the years passed, Schmidt would go on to marry and have three children. After moving to the Mechanicsburg area, her travels would take her past an old house at 130 Gettysburg Pike in Upper Allen Township.

“When I drove by, I felt almost like a magnetic pull,” she said. One day, as she was driving past the old structure, she spotted a “for lease” sign and decided to pull into the parking lot for a closer look.

A dream fulfilled

Happening upon the sign was a serendipitous moment that Schmidt wasn’t about to squander. She began toying with the idea of a coffee shop again, this time with a higher cause in mind.

Years earlier, before she and her husband decided to have children of their own, the couple considered adoption, enlisting the help of Bethany Christian Services of Central Pennsylvania.

“I was always drawn to the older kids and then one day it came to me. I wanted the coffee shop to focus on a mission to help those who were aging out of foster care,” she said, explaining that foster children can stay in the system until the age of 21, but many prefer to be released earlier. “They are sick of being jostled around. At times they even travel with a trash bag,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt made the call about the old house on Mother’s Day of 2016. Owner Rosalie Hess Roland answered, providing details about the old home.

“They were in the building business and were in the process of turning operations over to their son,” said Schmidt, adding that the structure, which now houses three commercial units, had been in the family since 1908.

Schmidt shared with Roland her idea of opening a coffee shop that would simultaneously act as a nonprofit to teach business skills to foster children.

“She told me that God told her to put a coffee shop there and I said that God didn’t tell me, so let me think about it,” said Roland, with a chuckle. Soon Roland was on board, literally. She now serves as the chair of a six-member board that ensures that the nonprofit’s goals are being met.

By May 2018, the coffee shop, named Cracked Pot, was up and running, selling baked goods made by volunteers, along with smoothies, paninis, salads, avocado toast and, of course, coffee-based drinks.

“We use Lancaster-based Passenger coffee, which is focused on providing fair wages for coffee farmers,” said Schmidt.

The unique name is inspired by a Bible verse in II Corinthians that compares humans to clay jars.

“We all have flaws and challenges and we’ve all been through stuff,” Schmidt said, adding that her shop is a place that engenders trust. “We want them to know that we care about them and where they’re headed, regardless of where they’ve been.”

Participating in the program

The program, which lasts between nine and 12 months, begins with a face-to-face interview and is serving two students at a time. Once they start, the students undergo customer service training and are expected to meet pre-set goals.

Work weeks vary between 20 and 30 hours, during which time the students are paid an hourly wage. During phase two of the training, students get a raise and other incentives. And outside mentor comes in to help them map out their goals for the future.

“We want to know how we can help them career-wise,” said Schmidt.

Elaine Shenk, who serves as satellite office director of the Harrisburg office of Bethany Christian Service of Central Pennsylvania, said that Schmidt is filling a niche that is desperately needed in the area. “We think it’s a good idea to help young people without a network learn the skills they need to successfully launch into adulthood.”

Plans for the future

Schmidt plans to continue to bring on more foster children after the current ones complete the program. “The individuals we hired will finish in spring/summer,” said Schmidt, adding that the students have become part of the “Cracked Pot” family. “One of our youth landed the lead role in a play at his school and I’d say about three quarters of our staff showed up and he killed it! He did an amazing job,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt has also hired a manager so that she has the opportunity to go into the community and speak as an advocate for children in the foster care system.

Additional plans are to integrate Cracked Pot into the community, with rental opportunities for those who want to gather there as a group.

“We’re working on doing more community events like game night for Messiah College students, Pokémon pizza nights for the kids, music nights and a monthly ‘memory café,’ for those who have Alzheimer’s and their caretakers,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt is also toying with the idea of opening the shop for Thanksgiving dinner next year. “I’d like it to be a safe place where they can see familiar faces and be with the people who love them,” said Schmidt, who recognizes a disconnect when it comes to face-to-face interaction these days.

“Fewer are taking the time to interact, care for each other and celebrate life with our youth. That’s another reason why we do across-the-counter service — so we can have that interaction with the customer rather than saying ‘here’s a cold mug, go pump it yourself,’” said Schmidt.

Schmidt smiles when she reflects on how her idea has manifested itself and the joy it brings her. “I love seeing the youth and the community come together to interact and most of all the opportunity to share Christ through coffee and relationships,” she said.

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