United Methodist community coffeehouse serves up hot drinks, friendly faces in Arkansas

A Java Shake (pictured) and a Pumpkin Spice Chai Latte are just a few of the delicious coffee drinks served up at Holy Grounds. || Photo provided by Holy Grounds Community Coffeehouse

In February of 2017, a small group of volunteers from Forrest City First United Methodist Church traveled to Tanzania to work with local missionaries who have planted churches in the area. During their trip, they met some of the preachers for those planted churches. It was there where Maurica Dooley came up with the idea for a community coffee house.

Dooley, a member of the church, said one of the pastors is majoring in theology and graduates from school this year. The church has pledged to pay his tuition.

“Part of what we are hoping to accomplish with this coffee house is for the proceeds or profits to go towards our partnership with the missions in Tanzania,” Dooley said. “So we want to be self-sustaining and actually make a profit.”

Holy Grounds Community Coffeehouse, located at 620 E. Broadway, opened in January and is found inside a newly remodeled parsonage house.

“It got to a point where we either needed to tear it down or do something with it,” Dooley said. “So many of our members didn’t want to tear it down.

“So we were trying to come up with something to do with this building, so we came up with this coffee house idea.”

The house is roughly more than 100 years old and has 12-foot ceilings and wood floors, according to Dooley. Last year, the church celebrated its 100th anniversary and held a capital campaign to raise money for maintenance for the church as well as the remodel work for the coffee house.

“We exceeded our goal actually quite a bit,” Dooley said. “We had several maintenance things for the church, but we also used the money to make the house into a coffee house.

“That’s what paid for that.”

Forrest City United Methodist Church’s pastor, the Rev. Dixon Platt, said whoever was in charge of remodeling the house did a fantastic job.

“It was a group effort,” Dooley said.

Dooley, who volunteers at the coffee house, said they reach out to the community and are a presence in the city through the coffee house.

“It is for people who wouldn’t necessarily enter through the front door of our church; this was sort of like a backdoor idea I guess,” Dooley said. “It is an outreach to the community for people who don’t have a connection to a church.”

a Delta BLT with pimento cheese, one of many tasty offerings at Holy Grounds. || Photo provided by Holy Grounds Community Coffeehouse

She said there had been a couple of people that had come to visit the church that were initially introduced to it through the coffee house.

“We also have a pay-it-forward jar for people to put their change in,” Dooley said. “Then when underprivileged people come in and don’t have enough money to buy a coffee or a sandwich, we use those funds from the pay-it-forward jar to give them a sandwich, coffee or something like that.

“We have a few regulars who come get a sandwich or something, and that may be the best meal they get that week.”

The idea of the pay-it-forward jar came from their full-time employee, Janet Peckham. Dooley said she is a “God-send.”

“She is awesome and a perfect fit,” Dooley said. “We have volunteers that help during the rush, and we also have a part-time employee that relieves her when she needs it.”

The coffee house is open Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is open until 6 p.m. on Wednesdays to accommodate the church crowd. The restaurant offers sandwiches, soups, cakes, and muffins and has different specials each week. The coffee house gets its beans from Westrock Coffee Company, which operates its own mission by using direct trade with the farmers who grow the beans. For more information, visit www.holygroundscommunitycoffeehouse.com.

“The community has really embraced it,” Dooley said. “They are very tickled to have a coffee shop in this town.

“Before, the only coffee offered around here was from McDonald’s. So it has been very well received and very supported by our community.”

Platt said the coffee house gets many customers coming off the interstate.

“They have stopped by for coffee or whatever they might want to pick up,” he said. “We are centrally located downtown, directly across from the post office.

“It is a food establishment, and those are hard to establish, but we are doing well.”

The coffee house has housed several committee meetings such as the downtown revitalization committee and other groups, according to Platt.

He said Briuana Green, who graduated from Forrest City High School and graduated from Harvard University recently, held a book signing for her book, “The Fall.”

“Our small groups from church use it after hours because it is a quieter spot than most,” Platt said. “We also have local artists display their artwork in the building.”

“A young man from our church has sat with his guitar and done a set,” Dooley said. “It has been very nice, and it is open for all kinds of people or anything the community would like to use it for.”

Holy Grounds Community Coffeehouse is located at 620 E. Broadway in Forrest City, Arkansas. || Photo provided by Holy Grounds Community Coffeehouse

Platt said the church’s mission statement is to, “Make disciples of Jesus Christ by bringing people in, building people up and sending people out.”

“Holy Grounds is part of making that mission happen,” Platt said. “I think God was working in and influencing the ministry from the beginning when the seed was planted in Tanzania, then through the planning, to the fundraising, to the remodel and now through the menu, the service, the volunteers, and the staff,” Platt said. “Each one of those steps has potential pitfalls, numerous pitfalls, but God works and influenced the dreamers, the planners, the donors, and now the operators.

“Holy Grounds is reaching people inside and outside the church including our neighbors in need who stop by for a meal, a coffee, and a friendly face.”

Service, love, opportunity: More than 100 years of educational achievement at Lydia Patterson Institute

Lydia Patterson Institute students listen intently to their teacher during a class at the Institute. || Photo courtesy of the Lydia Patterson Institute

There are 322 students currently enrolled at the Lydia Patterson Institute in El Paso, Texas, and around 90 percent of those students live in Juarez, Mexico and make the daily trek — about a two-hour walk — on a regular basis.

“As I observe the drive these students have to make their lives and those of their families’ lives better, I have come to the realization that these children do not take this opportunity for granted,” Ernesto Morales, the principal at Lydia Patterson Institute, said. “Some students will be here at seven in the morning to work hours that are required for the scholarship they have been given.

“Some of those same students will be here late into the evening for student activities and sports. Any free time after school will be used for homework and studying.

“When we think of determination, I can think of few instances where I see more.”

Stephen Coburn, the Northwest District Superintendent for the Arkansas Conference, traveled to El Paso to visit the Institute last year. He had the opportunity to go to the border and walk with the kids.

“Their day starts at 4 o’clock in the morning in order to get to the border,” Coburn said. “The students that I had an opportunity to interact with are very committed to their education. They are just like students here in the United States.

“They are eager to learn, hopeful for the future, dreaming dreams and trying to pursue them.”

The Lydia Patterson Institute dates back to 1913 and is the only institution of the United Methodist Church that sits right on the border, just a few blocks from the U.S. and Mexico border in El Paso. It is also the only institution that predominantly serves Hispanics and is supported by the South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church, according to Socorro De Anda, the president of Lydia Patterson Institute.

“We are a middle school and high school, grades 7 through 12,” De Anda said. “Seventy percent of our students cross the border every single day, and half of those students are U.S. citizens living across the border, and the other half are Mexican students that have student visas.

“Our mission is to help students that might not be able to continue their education because of a lack of resources or a lack of opportunity.”

De Anda said in the late 1800s, there was an influx of Mexican people coming into south El Paso, fleeing from the Mexico Revolution and settling in southern El Paso. She said those families had children of school age, but they were not allowed in the schools in El Paso, because the schools were for residents only.

Students pose for a group photo during a volunteer project at the Institute. Every year, 98 percent of graduating seniors at LPI go on to attend college. || Photo courtesy of Stephen Coburn

Lydia Patterson, who was a member of what is now Trinity-First United Methodist in downtown El Paso, took it upon herself to travel to the barrio and teach English and the Bible to these children in their homes. When she died, her husband gave $75,000 to the Methodist Church and asked that a school be built in memory of his wife.

“We bring them here, we teach them English, and we put them through high school, and we send them off to college,” De Anda said. “We are sending about 98 percent of our seniors to college every year, and many of them go through United Methodist colleges or universities that work with us.”

She said the minute a student enrolls at LPI, “we start training them.”

“You are not here to graduate high school and go to work,” she said. “You are here to go to college.

“Their mindset from the very beginning, that’s what they are going to do. When the time comes, if they can’t afford it, we are going to make sure they go to college.”

“These kids are like any other kids anywhere in the United States,” Coburn said. “They are just teenagers, normal kids trying to get an education, but they work hard.

“The commitments they have to make is just incredible. One hundred percent of their graduates go on to college somewhere. They have very high academic standards.

“Talking to the kids, not one student complained about how hard they have to work. They were just grateful for the opportunity.”

Currently, the Lydia Patterson Institute is undergoing a capital campaign to raise money for renovations for the school and build a new chapel. De Anda said the school has outgrown its current chapel.

“The buildings were built in 1960 and are more than 50 years old, so they need to be renovated,” she said. “We need to make sure the school remains here for the next 100 years.

“… We have to have two chapel services because we don’t fit in our old chapel. I want a place where we can worship together under one roof.”

According to the website, the existing facilities will be stripped to the bare structure and rebuilt to the latest standards, including “updated lighting, information technology and accessibility needs.” The new chapel will also house a dining area, specialized classrooms and student gathering areas, according to the website. For more information, visit www.lpi-elp.com.

The school holds chapel services on a weekly basis, and the students are required to take Bible classes are part of their graduation requirements.

“This is a place where one feels like you are making a difference,” De Anda, who has been the president for 26 years, said. “You are making a difference in the life of a student; you are changing their life.

“I have a background in finance, and people ask me why I gave that up for a nonprofit, and I always say, ‘I don’t think I made that decision. I think somebody up there made it for me.’

“I feel like I can make a difference in the lives of our students and sometimes their entire families.”

Mackey Yokem, the grants administrator for the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas, said LPI is “basically a college prep school for young people in the El Paso area.”

“We have been involved with them in raising money,” he said. “We don’t have input in their operation, but just help provide a major capital campaign.”

He said the Institute is trying to raise $15 million, including $500,000 from the Arkansas conference, and are probably a third of the way there.

“Their overall campaign, which is spread across the eight states of our jurisdiction, still has about a year to go,” Yokem said.

Bishop Gary Mueller of the Arkansas Conference expressed the need to support the Lydia Patterson Institute in their fundraising campaign.

“We, as Arkansas United Methodists, are called to create vital congregations that make disciples of Jesus Christ, who make disciples equipped to transform lives, communities and the world,” Bishop Mueller said. “By supporting the Lydia Patterson Institute, we are answering this call. Join me as we learn more about this powerful ministry in the upcoming months and how we may further support the work being done to change young lives each and every day.”

Michael Roberts, the senior pastor at Conway First United Methodist Church, said he had the opportunity in 2017 to experience the school first-hand. He was impressed by their mission and their work in the community.

“I was impressed with the number of students who do go to college and graduate from college,” Roberts said. “… I was very impressed by the work ethic of the students and their willingness to get up early in the morning and make their way to the border.

“It takes a lot of commitment to do that. They are motivated by their education and the possibilities and opportunities that it is going to give them.”

Lydia Patterson Institute students work on classroom assignments using tablets provided by the school. || Photo courtesy of the Lydia Patterson Institute

LPI is not a seminary school, but it does offer what is known as the Lay Ministry program. with 25 students currently enrolled in the program. The program affords students the opportunity to preach, lead worship, and serve in churches and communities both locally and around the country.

Karla Delgadillo, a student at LPI, was assigned to Conway First Methodist Church as an intern last year. Roberts said she was one of several students that came to Arkansas that summer.

“We were blessed to share life with her and experience her culture through her,” Roberts said. “She made presentations at the church, but she also went to a leadership institute at Hendrix College.

“She wasn’t here to work, necessary, but she was here to share her life and experience life in the Arkansas Conference.”

Morales said LPI holds firm in the belief that “we are here to demonstrate Christ by how we love and serve.”

“Many of our students serve as interns in churches across the country and also make missionary trips to other countries to serve in whatever capacity is needed,” Morales said. “Our student activities participate in helping the needy both here (in El Paso) and our sister city, Ciudad Juarez. Service and love, coupled with educational opportunity, make up the philosophy of Lydia Patterson Institute.

“God is definitely at work in the lives of these students and their families.”