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Student venture encourages community through coffee

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – With a bit of fair trade coffee, tea, chocolate and some toppings, two Bethel College freshmen, though undecided in their respective majors, are learning business as fledgling entrepreneurs.

Seth Dunn and Lisa Penner, both from Fresno, Calif., recently opened a makeshift coffee shop in the lounge of Haury Hall, a Bethel residence hall, to help increase the sense of student community.

“We would like it if there was a place that we could go … to hang out, talk or do whatever with a community atmosphere,” Dunn says. He hopes the draw of the coffee shop will be enough to bring people out of their rooms and into fellowship with one another.

“We’ve noticed that people tend to do their homework in their dorm rooms and to hang out there,” says Penner. “We wanted to create a place where a bunch of different people could hang out.”

Dunn got the idea to start a small, grassroots coffee shop during his visit to another college campus, where a student received a loan from the school for a coffee shop, started with a single pot and now has a full-fledged business with espresso machines and the works.

Dunn and Penner invested their own money for supplies (the college has not yet provided funding) and are close to one-third of the way to paying for the products. A discussion with Bethel’s Student Life Office is planned, but the college hasn’t yet taken an official position.

Although the still-unnamed coffee shop has yet to be profitable in its early stages, response from the student population has been encouraging.

“[Students have responded positively] both to what we are trying to do with the coffee shop and to build community,” says Dunn. “That response doesn’t translate to a line of people every night.

“We don’t expect a bunch of poor college students to pay for coffee every night, but it would be nice if the people that support it would show up more often.”

Eventually, Dunn and Penner would like to see the school take over the endeavor to provide a concrete community area and an opportunity for further student employment.

“Ultimately, we would turn it more into a coffee shop feeling,” Penner says, “eventually with more drinks, blended drinks and smoothies.”

Dunn says, “If everything were to go [according to our] plans, hopes and dreams, we’d have tables, music, student artwork on the wall – we’d like to make [the coffee shop] a name on campus.”

Dunn and Penner chose to use fair trade products in order to involve Newton’s Ten Thousand Villages store in the effort and to provide additional appeal to the conscientious student.

While still novices in the business of coffee shops, both Dunn and Penner have some experience as entrepreneurs.

“My brother and I used to go to our neighbors and sell cookies and lemonade,” says Penner. “We would carry everything in our wagon.”

Dunn went a less conventional route.

“When I was young, I bought a big bag of candy at Costco and sold it for $1 a piece,” says Dunn.

“I pretended to be in a club,” he adds.

The Bethel coffee shop’s hours are Mon.-Thurs. 8-11 p.m., and Sun. 8 p.m.-midnight, with fair trade coffee, tea and hot chocolate and some drink toppings, as well as mochas, lattes, cappucinos and steamers available.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008 and one of only two Kansas colleges listed in Colleges of Distinction 2008-09. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.

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