By Anne W. Semmes
On the high ground of Greenwich, the 300-year-old Second Congregational Church (SCC) has a landmark spire that can be seen from New Haven to New Rochelle along the Long Island coastline. But it’s what the SCC church members are doing to make good things happen for others across this church’s five-acre campus that is making it a place of grace.
There are seven nonprofits beside the church that have taken root on this campus with room for four more. To tell this good news story three instrumental church members gave this reporter a campus-wide tour beginning with its newest, headline making nonprofit, Coffee For Good, located on the main floor of the newly renovated Mead House on Maple Avenue.
“The building was built in 1858 by Solomon Mead as a residence, then owned by several different owners over the next 100 years,” began long time member Steve Scroggins. “The church bought it in 1952 as a school facility…The Junior League of Greenwich was a tenant upstairs…They left because they needed more space. And then Act Two [a thrift shop] was here on the whole first floor.” So, what to do with a now rundown building. “Do we renovate it, or do we sell it?” The choice was, “Let’s renovate it.” But the mandate was, “Our senior minister Max Grant said we need to have a major nonprofit tenant that serves the Greenwich community in the building.”
Scroggins as head of the church council at this renovation decision time experienced the “rigorous and at times challenging” process of getting P&Z approval to establish a joint venture between Abilis a nonprofit, and Second Congregational Church as nonprofit. Coffee For Good would be a training platform for adults with IDD (intellectual and developmental disabilities) issues,” shared Scroggins.
He walked this reporter back through the renovated first floor. “From about here forward was a catacomb of six or seven different rooms at different floor levels. So, we gutted all of that. We had to have disability access… And we expanded it and made this atrium as a back entrance for disability access and for supplies as needed.”
The cost was “roughly $1,250,000,” he told. “So, we have taken that money out of our endowment, which is roughly seven million. We’ve had two long term tenants here, the Breast Cancer Alliance upstairs and the Greenwich Alliance for Education.” That renovation also created two more rentable offices upstairs. “One of them is the Coffee For Good Executive Office. The second is an investment management firm, Martorell Capital Partners.” And also on the first floor, besides Coffee For Good, is a tax services company, iFO. “So, the income generated by the rent that Coffee For Good pays and the tax service pays, and the two tenants upstairs is sufficient to give us a return on our investment in the building.”
“So,” he noted, “We didn’t take church money and Abilis didn’t take Abilis money to start Coffee for Good. None of us are trying to make money. We pay the staff of three, and the trainees are paid minimum wage. We pay the utilities, and we pay the lease for Coffee For Good. So, all we’re looking for is enough revenue to cover the costs of training the Abilis members and the cost of operating the coffee shop.”
Scroggins introduced member Deb Rogan as the catalyst for the Coffee For Good (CFG) idea. Rogan, with a training in banking and consulting, serves CFG as volunteer executive director.
Sitting down together in the stone-walled interior extension of CFG a latte is sampled with its cream-designed surface, done by a proud barista trainee. Presently, said Rogan there are 24 trainees. “We have three primary training positions which each trainee will rotate through in their 6-12 months with us.” The positions: Point of Sale – greeting the customers and taking their orders; the Back Bar -fulfilling the orders for filter coffee, cold brew, nitro, ice teas, smoothies and pastries; and Barista – making espresso drinks, like lattes and cappuccinos.
Rogan was long sensitized by the struggles seen in a nephew with special needs and had approached Senior Minister Grant with the coffee shop idea three years ago. So, in Connecticut, if you have issues of IDD (intellectual and developmental disabilities),” she told, “and it’s your 21st birthday, you’re falling off the cliff. Many of their services end then,” she said. “And they want to work, they want to be out in life like the rest of us. They’re very capable. Working is not just about having a job and having a paycheck. It enables our whole life.
“We already have an employer who’s very interested in our graduates,” Rogan told, “and in fact we were just in that meeting, discussing four of our trainees who are ready to move on and this employer is opening a store on Greenwich Avenue.”
“Abilis is proud to partner with Second Congregational Church and Coffee for Good on the employee training program offered at Coffee for Good for adults with special needs,” said Amy Montimurro, CEO and president of Abilis. “Abilis provides job coaching and mentors the trainees and works with the Coffee for Good staff to help them navigate the workspace, as well as provides transportation (as needed) for the Coffee for Good trainees.”
“The church has always seen itself as an incubator of nonprofits,” Rogan summed up. “Going back to its founders who had to run the town – they founded Greenwich Library, they founded Greenwich Academy. More currently they founded Heart Care International, Inc. and Mothers for Others.”
Working shoulder to shoulder with Rogan on the CFG launch was member Cynthia Chang. “She was an architect in another life,” shared Rogan, mentioning Chang’s leading role in the renovation of the YMCA. Chang had overseen the additional renovation of a building adjacent to the church called the Steeple Commons that houses Heart Care International, Mothers for Others, and another outside nonprofit renter, At Home in Greenwich. The first floor houses the Church Preschool.
“I am trying to let the public know that these spaces are available to nonprofits looking for spaces to rent,” said Chang. “We have four spaces available.” Walking this reporter through the spaces, the windows looked out onto the tree-studded campus. Chang had enlisted the counsel of realtor Diane Roth of Allied Property Group in the renovation. “It just looks beautiful,” said Roth. Included in the spaces is a common conference room and a small kitchen area because sometimes, Roth added, “They’ll have a meeting and want to bring in some coffee.”
The rent for those spaces sized from 500 to 700 square feet, she shared was from $1,300 to $1,700 a month, “including everything which is very, very inexpensive.”
“We undertook this major construction project,” concluded Chang, “in order to pass along the property for future generations. It’s our duty to renovate and preserve this campus to continue the work of the generations before us who had acquired and assembled the land and built the buildings and planted the seeds for different communities to thrive on this property.”
“We want to use the blessing of our campus location and our facilities to support the nonprofit community in Greenwich,” echoed Scroggins.