PINEVILLE, Mo. – The McDonald County Chamber of Commerce received $ 50,000 as part of T-Mobile’s Hometown Grant on Monday for its student-run cafe.
Officials say they want to use the grant to expand the program and guide students’ careers in business, one cup at a time.
Commerce Coffee is housed in the chamber building in downtown Pineville and is run by business students from McDonald County High School. It gives students valuable experience and teaches them real-world skills, according to their teachers.
“I could list a hundred reasons why it’s important for student education to have this cafe,” said Kristy Gilgen, business professor at McDonald County High School. “It’s a higher level of learning. You can sit in a classroom and take notes all day, but until you have to, you don’t really learn it. “
Monday’s check presentation was celebrated at the Pineville House with city officials, T-Mobile staff and a catered barbecue. Dontay Taylor, rural market manager at T-Mobile, said the goal of T-Mobile’s Hometown Grants program is to invest in small-market rural areas.
“We give 24 grants, different amounts for each city, and we allow those cities to really help develop some of the initiatives that they’re trying to do,” Taylor said. “There is no better city that could have received this; there are amazing people here. I can’t wait to see what they are able to do with the grant.
In the case of McDonald County, grant money will be used to improve and expand the Commerce Coffee learning experience. The store started two years ago as a program where students at McDonald County High School worked with the chamber to launch an entrepreneurial project. The students came up with the idea of a community café, modeled on a similar store run by high school students.
“The students thought a coffee was a good idea,” Gilgen said. “It wasn’t something really available in Pineville.”
Last year, the students moved into the chamber building, which was provided to the school at a reduced cost by the town of Pineville. They worked the mornings before school to serve coffee, mostly to the grateful teachers at Pineville Elementary School. Managing the cafe gave students a different education than sitting in class taking notes.
“As a businessman, I’ve learned that on-the-job training is so important,” said Shawn Cooper, president of the McDonald County Chamber of Commerce. “One of the things you don’t think about is soft skills. It means learning to be on time, to be polite, and to do your job. We want to teach that here. We want them to understand that if they don’t show up, the coffee will not be made and they will not receive any money.
This year, the store closed due to a monitoring shortage, but Gilgen plans to reopen in August. This time, because of the grant, it will look different, Gilgen said. She and another business professor, Sherry Lemm, have big plans for the stock market.
“We pitched a lot of ideas,” Gilgen and Lemm said in unison, laughing.
Teachers would like to take the mobile cafe, visit community festivals throughout the county, and possibly visit several towns. They would also like to extend cafe classes to younger students – for example, teaching elementary students math skills by counting change.
“We dreamed,” Gilgen said. “We want to use coffee as a basis for learning. With $ 50,000, a lot can happen. We can take a big step in the right direction.
Irael Marcos, a recent McDonald County High School graduate, worked at Commerce Coffee in his final year. He started out wanting a career in business, maybe in accounting. But the experience of working at the store changed her future plans.
“My role was to advertise the coffee,” Marcos said. “This is how I discovered my passion for graphics and for graphic design.
While working with students to design logos and advertising, Marcos discovered that he had a talent for graphics. He started working on other design projects in school, including the yearbook cover design. Now he is studying graphic design at Northwest Arkansas Community College. He hopes to work for a graphic design company or even run his own business that creates logos, t-shirts and other products.
“It completely changed the way I think about my future,” Marcos said. “They made me feel like I was part of something, it was something that I hadn’t felt so much before. I will always be grateful for it. The graphics reassure me. It’s like a hobby that I enjoy and want to do as a career. I love what I do and want to do it for a long time.
Working at Commerce Coffee also gives McDonald County High School students access to scholarships. Cooper said he hoped the Hometown grant would encourage students to sell more coffee and increase scholarship money. He also hopes to reach more students like Marcos and inspire their future in business.
“It feels good to my heart,” Cooper said. “This is what we want to do. Irael didn’t know that graphic design is part of business, and that there is a fun part of business. Business is not that scary; working for a living is not that scary. You can come out of your shell and learn the things you’re good at and learn them in a safe environment. Here you have the opportunity to shine at a young age.