TERRE HAUTE —
Sunlight pours through a huge stained-glass window to extend a rainbow of color onto the coffee drinkers and socializers gathered in The Meeting Grounds.
Inside the 1894 building, formerly a church, the coffee house is a pleasant place with comfortable seating and conversation tables. Located in the Farrington’s Grove neighborhood, The Meeting Grounds at Sixth Street and Washington Avenue can be accessed by the public through the large red wooden doors that not so long ago welcomed worshippers into an ornate sanctuary.
God still moves among the coffee drinkers at The Meeting Grounds, and certainly among the residents and staff at the Next Step Foundation. Next Step executive director Dana Simons has plenty of “God stories” to offer as evidence. The opening of the coffee house itself is one example.
After praying and waiting and thinking about opening the coffee house, Simons said that on April 18 she picked an opening date of May 18 to set a goal and get things moving. It was time.
“I said, ‘We have no money to do this. We have no electricity. We have no plumbing’,” she recalls telling the Next Step community of the decision. “But what you get to watch over the next 30 days, is watch God move.”
Through people using their skills, energy and generosity, the community did see God move as the sanctuary of the former Presbyterian church — previously used for storage — transformed into an attractive “meeting grounds” that dispenses Rex Coffee and pre-packaged snacks along with job skills to women who are transitioning back into society as part of their recovery from addictions.
An electrician was able to wire the sanctuary to have a coffee preparation area and to install electrical outlets at various places where customers can plug in or charge their laptops and mobile devices while taking advantage of the free wireless Internet.
A plumber brought a water source and drain into the coffee-making area. Used furniture was found at low prices, then cleaned up, painted and arranged in a variety of conversation areas. A children’s area includes games and videos for kids to enjoy while the adults relax nearby.
“We didn’t want this space to look like a recovery house,” Simons said. “We wanted to give the community a different view, a different face. We want our people to start realizing they are acceptable to society.”
In operation for more than a year, Next Step has grown in its outreach from its original goal of giving women a place to recover from addiction, to providing nearby housing for men in recovery, as well as family housing to reunite and strengthen family units harmed by addiction. The most recent growth has been the establishment of the coffee house, with its intention of being an asset to the local community, and to provide the opportunity for Next Step residents to learn service and job skills.
One of the women to go through the Next Step program was a sixth-generation addict, Simons said. Three other women had at one time been held as captives in a local basement where they were used as sex slaves.
Simons said she knows that many of the Next Steppers have horror stories about their past lives in addiction, but she was shocked to learn from one woman about being held as a sex slave.
“We were going into a basement to get some things, and she stopped at the top of the stairs and said, ‘I can’t go down there,’” Simons recalls. After realizing the woman was not claustrophobic or afraid of the dark, Simons heard the woman’s story of how she had been kept captive for weeks at a time.
So, there is a natural connection between that experience and an upcoming event planned at Next Step to raise awareness of sex slavery.
A bra drive and open house is set for 7 p.m. July 9 at the coffee house to support Free The Girls, a nonprofit organization making a difference in the lives of human trafficking survivors in Mozambique and abroad. By partnering with safe houses and after-care facilities, Free The Girls trains rescued women to earn a living selling second-hand clothing while going to school, getting healthy and caring for their families.
Those attending the event at The Meeting Grounds are asked to bring gently used bras to donate.
“Since we help women locally who are attempting to escape from the slavery of addiction as well as sex trafficking right here in Indiana, we felt that we should also reach out and provide support to the women around the world who need to build a new life,” Simons said. “We believe that Free The Girls provides a simple way for women to help other women.”
By attending the open house and purchasing desserts and specialty coffee drinks, funds will also be raised to help rescue women in the Wabash Valley. More than 27 million men, women and children are being held as modern-day slaves around the world, according to international human rights organizations. Of those slaves, 80 percent are women and girls.
Next Step was founded by a group of concerned citizens wanting to help women overcome addiction. It is managed and funded by individual community members, along with community grants, payments from residents and donations. Although faith-based, Next Step is not affiliated with any particular church or denomination.
Simons points out that the opening of the coffee house fits with the zoning of its residential neighborhood. The former church annex building was rezoned in February 2011 as a planned development where the women reside. The church sanctuary remains zoned for “general assembly” for community use. As a coffee house, it does not qualify as a public food service establishment that is subject to health department approval, because there is an exception for organizations that prepare or serve only beverages, ice, popcorn or prepackaged foods.
“It’s really a ministry,” Simons said of The Meeting Grounds. “It’s for our people to have a nice place to meet. And it’s for others to come here as well.”
The coffee house is being well-received in the neighborhood, she said. One young professional couple who moved to Terre Haute from an urban area has been stopping by regularly.
And the Next Steppers themselves are feeling that they are part of the neighborhood.
“Next Step has changed my life and The Meeting Grounds has taught me a lot — how to be more sociable and how to step up,” said Crystal, a resident with a disability who works 20 hours and helps train others in the coffee shop.
“I used to depend on other people a lot, so now I’m more accountable for what I do,” said the Sullivan native. “I love it here. I wouldn’t be nowhere else. I was meant to be here.”
Watching a person such as Crystal change to having a positive attitude and self-awareness is one of the things that makes the hard work of running the recovery community worthwhile, Simons said.
“Seeing her thrive is the fuel for all this, because it’s hard work,” Simons said. Programming the classes and meetings that residents attend takes a lot of time and energy.
Simons said the public should know that The Meeting Grounds is open 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Groups can reserve private areas for meetings, and the room can be reserved for private parties. So far, two teenage birthday parties have been hosted. A future goal is to have local musicians perform on a small stage area.
More information about Next Step and its Free The Girls event is available at nextsteptoday.org.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.