Sometimes there are mountains in the way.
Her haunting eyes penetrated my soul. She asked, “Don’t I know you?”
The dinner for homeless teens, hosted by many Bellarmine community folks and others, suddenly became personal.
Across the table she huddled, ragged, pale, and exhausted - exhausted not so much from lack of sleep, but from lack of hope. I recognized her haunted eyes, though the last time I saw them they beamed energetically from a tartan-plaid uniformed fourth grader in my son’s class at St. Patrick’s School. It was Sienna.
Though just miles apart, the streets of Hilltop were, in my mind at least, a long way from St. Pat's. My eyes opened and my heart broke. These kids were all our children.
The mountains loomed dauntingly.
Homelessness and need exist in our own community. There was no going back now, and an occasional community dinner would no longer suffice. We needed to find some solutions to reach into this pain, to hold it, and to carry it to hope and healing. Though Pierce County had the highest number of teens experiencing homelessness, it offered, ironically, the fewest services. Under 18-year-olds were kicked out of every shelter at 9 p.m., regardless of how freezing the night, ostensibly “for their safety.”
There was an unseen, ignored Calcutta right here among us, and no one seemed to care or know what to do about these abandoned kids.
An eclectic, gritty group of “mamas” formed.
On our journey to find solutions, we visited The Coffee Oasis Cafe in Bremerton. Our hearts knew we had happened upon real hope for our teens.
The cafe was decorated with quotations from Jean Vanier, the founder of L‘Arche. These people got it.
It was a mission that unconditionally loved, welcomed and wrapped around every kid. This Jesuit-like mission was founded by a peace-soaked “Ghandi” of the Bremerton streets, Dave Fredericks, who had poured every ounce of his last twenty years into creating home for these kids without homes.
Our gritty group of mamas became relentless beggars to bring this effective, 20-year-old mission to our children in Pierce County.
Finally, we wore Dave Fredericks down, and he said, "Yes".
Folks, it is actually happening. The Coffee Oasis is finally being born in our town!
Though sometimes the mountains feel impassable, we need to keep taking one step at a time.
Miraculously a twelve bed, 24-hour youth shelter is opening now on the property owned and cultivated by the Franciscan sisters for years. How fitting that it formerly housed an orphanage. So many people and foundations have stepped up, even nationally, to help make this happen!
The sisters still live in one of the houses. This is "Holy" ground, my friends, that just happens to be on the bus line and by the mall, super accessible for the teens.
But wait - even more mountains have moved. The Coffee Oasis is opening a beautiful, cool cafe in Lakewood that will be a community hub, with delicious food and excellent coffee, as well as provide barista job training for the teens. All the proceeds of this business model go to supporting the youth programs that include case management, rehabilitation, school and court liaisons - a path toward hope and healing.
Sometimes we know not how to keep climbing, but God calls us to trust and surrender all.
A month ago, Dave Fredericks was diagnosed with Stage 4 Mesothelioma cancer. He continues to pour out every ounce for these teens, and his mission continues to be blessed. As he climbs the Mount Golgotha before him, he keeps saying yes, and so does his family, including his incredible son Daniel Fredericks, as he equips to take the reins.
If you want to come alongside this mission, to climb these mountains and to come alongside teens who have no home and no hope and help them have help and a proven way out, come join us on this journey, but put on your hiking boots!
It is in no way easy, sterile or glamorous. It is muddy and hard, and you feel like giving up half the time, but then Sienna’s eyes pierce your heart and say, “Don’t I know you?”
Recently I received a call from one of Ms. Becky Bernard’s classes. It was Bellarmine students who wanted to help. They are doing a clothing drive, and their jeans and hoodies will wrap these kids with hope. The Jesuit mission loved and lived out loud.
Let’s all put on our boots and climb together!
The mission of The Coffee Oasis truly embodies the Jesuit call, and as such, many Bellarmine community members have jumped in with both feet.
Mary Byrne B’79, quintessential Lion, came roaring in with support by collecting toiletries, hosting house gatherings, even cooking pasta for a dinner of 80 guests. Doug Horner B’82 is the general contractor on the new cafe in Lakewood. Lori Limson, a great supporter of Catholic organizations within our community, is offering her services as architect for the project.
It is a beautiful example of living the mission of the Grad at Grad - being people for others.
History of The Coffee Oasis
In the 1990s, Dave and Cindy Frederick had their eyes opened to a part of Bremerton that many of us do not see — poverty, drug abuse, neglected children, homelessness and violence. While Dave served as a pastor and volunteer police chaplain, and as he and Cindy opened their home to foster children, they came face-to-face with young people whose lives were spiraling downward toward lifelong incarceration, addiction and sometimes death.
With a newfound heart for youth, Dave and Cindy resigned from the pastorate and in 1996 founded Hope in Christ Ministries, a non-profit corporation, with the goal of “bringing the hope of Christ to the pain on the streets.” The following year, the couple purchased The Coffee Oasis, then located on 622 Warren Avenue in Bremerton, to provide a place for serving youth.
Teen Night began at The Coffee Oasis on the first Friday evening of September 1997. That first night, four youth came from “smokers’ corner,” located across the street from Bremerton High School, to “check it out,” and since that first Friday thousands of youth have passed through the doors. What they have found is a place and people that care for them, regardless of their background or present situation.
In the years that followed, The Coffee Oasis expanded to include more resources for street youth
(showers, laundry, clothing and food), youth centers, job training, mentoring, case management, a shelter and more. The Coffee Oasis has grown beyond Bremerton, including locations in Port Orchard and Poulsbo.
Angela Connelly is a local philosopher, author and gardener, who, along with her husband Jack Connelly, is passionate about growing her nine rowdy children (many of whom have graduated from or are currently attending Bellarmine), her community, and beauty. She is addicted to coffee, walking in the rain, and begging for good solutions for the vulnerable.