by Luther Houle
More than a dozen students met at Dorothy’s House of Coffee, 503 East St., for holiday feasts between Thanksgiving and Christmas. They were hosted by the Catholic Community of Flint, a coalition of the city’s four Catholic churches, to gather people together and foster community.
Visitors coming in from the cold found a warmly lit room full of smiling, friendly faces. An enormous spread of home-cooked Italian cuisine awaited them, with the words “EAT, DRINK, AND BE MERRY” drawn in big letters across the blackboard wall. The catch? Some of them were asked to stay to help put up Christmas decorations and play a game.
Dorothy’s House of Coffee was the brainchild of Fr. James Mangan, associate pastor of St. Matthew’s Church and parochial vicar of the Catholic Community. He set the project into motion three years ago, with the goal of creating an all-inclusive place for the Flint community to hang out, discuss life, and have great coffee.
Meanwhile, Bethany Coon was working in Lansing as a barista, with a similar dream of creating a community space for people to gather and meet one another over a cup of something hot. When the two connected, Coon took it as her mission to move to Flint and make it happen. With her experience and Fr. James’s leadership, the project quickly developed, with Coon as manager.
In July of 2017, the hunt for a location began. It was important to the duo that the coffeehouse be located where both college students and community members could easily find and visit it. After seeing a few potential spots, they zeroed in on a building next to Riverside Tabernacle Church. It had been used by the church as a cafe, but more recently had gone unused.
Peeking in the windows, Coon said she found it exactly what they were looking for. It was perfectly situated across I-475 from the University of Michigan-Flint, putting it directly between Flint’s two biggest college campuses: UM-Flint and Mott Community College. Reaching out to Riverside Tabernacle, the two were happily received, and acquired the small shop.
Renovations began almost immediately. Inspired by Fr. Mangan’s plan to make an all-inclusive community coffee house, volunteers both in and out of the Catholic Community of Flint offered professional aid. In doing so, volunteers became the first to experience the community they hoped to foster. Renovations wrapped up in January and the shop held an informal opening celebration.
Since then, it’s hosted more than 50 community events, meetings of faith, music, and community engagement. In November, it fully opened to the public, serving hot drinks and cinnamon rolls at suggested donation prices.
Dorothy Day, patroness and namesake of Dorothy’s House of Coffee, is often regarded as one of the greatest American Catholics. An activist and journalist in the Women’s Suffrage movement, Day lived a bohemian lifestyle before converting to Catholicism in 1927. Afterwards, she played an important part in establishing the Catholic Worker Movement, and spent her life working to uplift the less fortunate. Dorothy’s captures this spirit by creating a pay-what-you-can environment, where folks are welcome to come in for coffee and conversation without worrying about what they can afford.
“Everything at Dorothy’s is donation-based,” Campus Minister Michael Hasso explained. Some people come in who can’t afford to pay, while many others generously donate beyond the suggested prices. This helps to foster an environment of charity within the community, he said.
Ten percent of all proceeds go directly to the St. Luke’s N.E.W. (North End Women’s) Life Center. St. Luke’s, located at 3115 Lawndale Ave., assists women and men on the North End of Flint by offering vocational training and education, and provides Dorothy’s cinnamon rolls through their baking program.
Hasso was an active volunteer during renovations at Dorothy’s and will soon be stepping up as a manager, along with Taylor Rush, on Jan. 1. As director of campus ministry for the Catholic Community of Flint, Hasso reaches out to both Catholic and non-Catholic students at Flint universities. He said he plans to expand events already happening at Dorothy’s to reach out to more students on campus and neighborhood residents.
Coon, meanwhile, is returning to school to continue her education in social work. She said she is pleased with what Dorothy’s has become and excited for its future. “A lot of people want to talk about faith, but it can be very intimidating to walk into a church. Our hope was that Dorothy’s could be a first step towards people discovering faith,” Coon said.
EVM Staff Writer Luther Houle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.