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Wildflyer youth program taking over Fresh Grounds building

By Casey Ek
Those in the neighborhood who miss the mission-driven Fresh Grounds coffee joint at 1362 West 7th St., which closed in the wake of the pandemic, can perk up knowing it will soon be replaced by a similar establishment. 
Wildflyer Coffee, a work and life skills program aimed at tackling youth homelessness that takes the shape of a café, is coming into the community. The program, which began in Minneapolis, offers participants 16-24 years of age the hard and soft skills that come with working in coffee shop as well as case management, employment counseling and other supportive measures. This holistic, understanding approach, according to Wildflyer Program Manager and social worker MacKenzie Diessner, is aimed at ensuring graduates leave the program gainfully employed. 
“It’s really about that [socio-economic] upward mobility piece,” Diessner said.
Lulu, 19, an Oct. 2023 graduate of the program, who did not provide a last name for privacy reasons, said that the program helped her flourish in more ways than one. 
“The program has helped me by providing me with basic etiquette and knowledge of how to perform in a work space environment and how to take care of yourself to balance your work and personal life. It also helped me by giving me connections to my peers and people who have a desire to help in any area they can assist. It really helped in giving me the space to express myself and create new, exciting pieces(opportunities) that could benefit me in the future financially and personally,” she said.
The site on West 7th is also home to RS Eden’s Seventh Landing, a 12-unit recovery-focused youth housing complex. RS Eden, which operated Fresh Grounds for over a decade, offers residents access to support services, including case management, life skills and access to employment services. Wildflyer will be teaming up with them in an effort to help eliminate barriers for youth experiencing homelessness who are seeking employment. 
  “Transportation is a huge barrier for youth experiencing homelessness or housing instability, so if we’re able to partner with any young people who are residents here to be participants of our program that would be awesome,” Diessner said. “As Wildflyer is expanding it’s really cool to be affiliated with RS Eden.”
The new coffee shop was getting a fresh coat of paint on Jan. 16, and the team hopes to open their doors for a soft opening on March 7 with a grand opening slated for March 11. Operations Manager Anne Woster was refining the workflow of the coffee bar while painters worked. She said that those familiar with Fresh Grounds can expect a similar welcoming experience, noting that Wildflyer customers will have a chance to help shape young careers in ways not found at commercial establishments. 
“(By purchasing coffee from Wildflyer), customers are actively playing a role. You are a participant in what we are doing,” Woster said.
Wildflyer works alongside other coffee shops in the Twin Cities to refine its operations and to ensure program participants are gaining the most relevant work skills. Caribou Coffee runs workshops on customer service as well. 
Wildflyer began as a coffee cart in 2017 before it grew into its brick-and-mortar shop at 3262 Minnehaha Ave., in Minneapolis. 
Thanks to nearly $23,000 raised on Indiegogo, and a $50,000 grant through Mutual of America’s Community Partnership Award, Wildflyer will be able to double the amount of participants they can take in. In its lifetime, Wildflyer has employed 50 youth with 25 of those coming last year alone.
Diessner said that Wildflyer, which hires four times a year, attempts to meet the youth they employ half way. Where a traditional employer might fire a participant for no-showing a shift, Wildflyer staff try to see the factors that might have led to their absence, like a lack of transportation or mental health needs. 
“Wildflyer is very intentional about being understanding and empathizing  with the complex barriers youth experience,” Diessner said.

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