Ana Reyes' recent life represents a Community Services League success story. Now, she's part of a different kind of success story.

Reyes is the manager of BlendWell Cafe, the combination coffee shop and community center that CSL recently opened in the old bank building on the south side of U.S. 24 in the Fairmount neighborhood of northwest Independence.

She and her co-workers were busy late Tuesday afternoon as CSL hosted a gathering to thank donors who made the transformed building possible. Several years ago, she first came to CSL as a client who was homeless. Reyes worked her way up to become a staffing manager for a hospitality company and served as a CSL board member, so she knew when plans for the building were in the works. She was encouraged to apply for the manager but admittedly was reluctant, and then CSL Chief Innovation Officer Mark O'Renick tabbed her for the position.

“They pointed me in the right direction,” Reyes said. “I have a longstanding relationship with CSL. It's huge, to be able to work for them and be on their staff and be able to help people.”

Coffee and some pastries are just the beginning of BlendWell Cafe's offerings. The rest are designed to help people deal with causes of poverty.

There's an office for Holy Rosary Credit Union, which offers small loans as an alternative to payday loan outlets. Missouri Job Corps rents space in the basement, as does the Independence School District for a virtual learning center to help dropouts obtain their GED. The former bank vault has become a small conference room, and CSL advisers can meet clients for employment coaching and financial counseling at the coffee shop.

The training center for CSL's 10-week training program for certified nursing assistants also is downstairs. The third edition of that program, which helps people out of low-paying jobs with no benefits and into jobs with livable wages with benefits for themselves and children, begins in October. CSL also has done a similar program for welders. O'Renick says that over time more programs could be offered.

The building's location makes CSL services equally accessible to Sugar Creek residents in addition to those in northwest Independence.

“We have the ability to wrap around and help a whole family,” O'Renick said. “it's a new way of looking at economic development

“We've made it a point of access into the services we provide. It's a different feeling when having a chat here as opposed to a traditional social services setting. We're connecting people to resources and each other – one cup, one conversation at a time.”

As for the coffee, the beans come from Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters in Kansas City, which draws its name from the John Steinbeck line referring to people having a choice at any point in time. That, as O'Renick notes, is fitting for CSL's mission.

CSL purchased the building and adjacent land (including parking) for $280,000 and raised about $1.1 million to renovate the building.

“This is a significant cultural asset for the community, President/CEO Doug Cowan told the gathering Thursday. “We've given platform and an opportunity to the community.”

The tables at BlendWell were made by ISD students, incorporating the doors from the bank's old safety deposit boxes. Some of those deposit box doors are also fixed to the bank vault door to recognize donors. There's a display box of old bank artifacts, and a large picture of Bess Truman, one of CSL's early leaders long before she became first lady, with the line “World's Bess Cup of Coffee.”

For Reyes, the chance to serve that holds a lot of meaning.

“This is genuinely a great experience,” Reyes said. “(CSL) stood up and filled a gap for me; now it's my turn to stand in a gap for them.”

 

IF YOU GO

 

BlendWell Cafe is at 10725 East U.S. 24, Independence. Hours are 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, but could be expanding in the future.