More than just a coffee shop is planned for the old bank building on the south side of U.S. 24 in the Fairmount area of northwest Independence.

“It’s a place where we’re going to change lives,” said Mark O'Renick, chief innovation officer of the Community Services League.

Work is already underway to convert the bank into space for a coffee shop, a loan office for Holy Rosary Credit Union and space for classes and get-togethers. A ground-breaking is set for next month, and plans are to have it open by the end of the summer.

“It’s a new model for community engagement,” O’Renick said.

The Community Services League has facilities across Eastern Jackson County with services such as food shelves and utility assistance but has in recent years been making an effort to broaden its work and help people get at the deeper causes of poverty.

“How do we open up things that can help people lift themselves up?” O’Renick said.

For instance, last year it held a 10-week program for people wanting to become certified nursing assistants, moving about 15 women – many of them single moms – out of low-paying jobs with no benefits into jobs with livable wages with benefits, including insurance for their kids. All 15 finished the program and found work. CSL had a similar program in welding and this week started a second CNA class.

Also, CSL does employment coaching and financial counseling, and O’Renick said families that go through that see an average gain in income of $10,000 a year.

“So it’s working,” he said.

The coffee shop and more is the next step. The shop, which is intended to turn a profit, will create jobs with livable wages and jobs and provide work experience. The credit union loan office gives people an alternative to payday loans. CSL is already working with Holy Rosary elsewhere.

And it will be a community space with a lounge area and a drop-down screen suitable for business meetings and community meetings. All of this is meant to add a community asset and give people more means to improve their lives.

“It’s transformational change,” O’Renick said.

Also, he said, this gets an unused building renovated, looking better and back in use, something that should contribute to other upgrades in Fairmount.

“I’m pretty positive it’s going to happen,” he said.

Donors have bought into the vision behind this, and have contributed $1.1 million toward the renovation work.

The Community Services League had a neighborhood meeting this week to take ideas on what kind of services people think are needed. The coffee shop/credit union idea is going over well, O’Renick said, adding that he was struck by one woman’s comment.

“We’re so excited because we don’t have nice things here.”

The neighbors appear ready to embrace the facility.

“Many of them have been in here helping to clean,” O’Renick said. “They’ve been part of the process …”