A Coffee House That Gives Back

Elyria-Swansea’s Prodigy Coffee Blends Workforce Training With Bean Business

There’s nothing like a neighborhood coffee house—one of those places where you stay for the conversation and atmosphere rather than rush off to work or settle down alone at a table in front of a laptop.

Prodigy Coffeehouse in Elyria-Swansea, off of 40th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard, is just that kind of place. Visitors make remarks not only about how well the coffee is made but how polite and engaging the staff is.

“A gem,” one person remarked. Not everyone knows that Prodigy is also a nonprofit that serves as an incubator and launchpad for young adults looking to start their careers.

The business model is the brainchild of founder and CEO Steph Frances, who in response to her experiences with “systemic disconnects in the education system” said she wanted to devise a program to help young adults find gainful employment.

Through Prodigy’s apprentice program, 18- to 24-year-olds who live nearby have the opportunity to establish foundations of leadership skills and success in their careers through the art of coffee.

After completing the program, these young adults usually disperse into other jobs, though some have stayed on to become managers at Prodigy. Apprentices spend time each week in workshops that cover relevant subjects such as the history of growing coffee in the world and fair trade issues or learning how to tap into individual motivations to become more employable.

When asked how she chose coffee as the vehicle for creating her program, Frances said, “Coffee is a craft, providing an avenue for learning transferable job skills. It’s also a wonderful social connector as the participants learn how to make authentic connections with customers using good eye contact and genuine conversation starters.”

During the yearlong apprenticeship, participants learn how to make assorted coffee drinks and are instructed on how to apply the skills they learn to their prospective employment.

“We start with these young adults’ inherent greatness,” Frances said, “encouraging them to share their interests as a place to build authentic relationships.” With deep work and deep learning, apprentices build skills, mindsets, networks for sustainable careers, and most importantly, they discover their own value,” Frances said.

The Prodigy website, blog and newsletter are brimming with success stories. Of the 185 young adults who have progressed through the program thus far, 86% increased their earning power through raises, promotions, and increased roles of responsibility, and some acquired certifications, according to the information materials from the business.

Additionally, nearly all apprentices increased their professional network, and Frances said acquiring these skills has built confidence and led to better mental well-being. Frances said she plans to open a second location in August at 4500 Broadway in Globeville.

More information about the program is available at www.prodigyventures.org. Prodigy Coffeehouse is open 6 a.m.-4 p.m. every day at 3801 E. 40th Ave.

Apprentices and staff pose for portraits in January at Prodigy Coffeehouse. Photo courtesy of Kevin Mohatt / Prodigy Coffee.

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