Threads - Oct 2023 Sam's Place: A place to belong

A Talk with Alison Greenslade and Rebecca Engel about Sam's Place new location

Sam's Place Coffee interior

Manitoba — Oct 2023

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Listen in as our host Kyle Rudge talks to Reinhold Kramer, one of the organizers for Cycle Clear Lake, an annual bike ride that raises funds for  MCC.

Threads is a 15-minute radio program featuring the work of MCC in Manitoba and around the world. Threads broadcasts on CFAM AM 950, CHSM AM 1250 and CHRB AM 1220 at 8:45 am on the first Sunday of each month.

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Kyle Rudge (00:02):
It begins with a single thread woven through other thread, and then another and another until we have a single piece of fabric. That fabric is stretched, cut and stitched together with another, just like it. This process is repeated over and over and over until we have a beautiful tapestry that all began with a single thread. Welcome to an MCC Threads, where we look closely at how our stories in Manitoba weave together with the stories of MCC and its partners around the world. When someone says there's been a lot of change in an organization, you tend to think there's been a lot of personnel shifts. However, when I say there's been a lot of change at MCC Manitoba, that is not the image I want you to conjure. If you don't know by now the building at Plaza Drive, that's been the home to both MCC Manitoba and MCC Canada for decades was sold and now both have new homes, separate homes in Winnipeg's downtown.

Alison Greenslade (01:18):
Hi, I'm Alison Greeslade, and I am the Sam's Place manager.

Rebecca Engel (01:22):
My name is Rebecca Engel and I am the Volunteer and Program coordinator for Sam's Place.

Kyle Rudge (01:27):
One program that's seen possibly the most change due to the move is Sam's place as both Alison and Rebecca were happy to share with me when I stopped by for coffee this week.

Alison Greenslade (01:38):
So Sam's Place is a coffee shop social enterprise of MCC Manitoba, and we are now located at 140 Bannatyne Avenue in the Exchange District, which is lovely. We are open 7:30 till 3:30, Monday through Friday, and 9 to 4 on Saturdays.

Kyle Rudge (01:59):
This new version of Sam's Place has been open to the public for two weeks now, and business is going strong.

Alison Greenslade (02:05):
Last Week was phenomenal, phenomenal, like the response that we received was much more than we were even anticipating. Basically we had hours long lineups for the entire week. Each day got busier and busier, and then we finished our week, last week running Nuit Blanche and that was next level busy. But it was so exciting to like, it was so exciting to be engaging with this community. Like right off the bat, like all through the week, folks came through the door and they were like, I work upstairs, I work across the street, I work around the corner. And that was really cool because they completely welcomed us into the community and then to be opened during Nuit Blanche where people were roaming the exchange and felt comfortable enough to like come to this brand new coffee shop to check it out. On a very busy and event filled night. That was really cool.

Rebecca Engel (03:10):
Oh, they love it. It's, yeah, they love the color. They love all the little like retail items we have that are all very cute and tiny and like adorable. And yeah, this space is just, we have a lot of seating, which is super nice. So people in the exchangethere's not a lot of places to go to sit and study or work or do a meeting and this has been a very welcoming environment for them and they've just absolutely loved it. The response has been phenomenal and way better than we expected.

Kyle Rudge (03:41):
Sam's place before was part used bookstore, part cafe, part restaurant, part concert venue. And well part a lot of things. With the move comes a refocus and what the purpose and mission of Sam's Place is to be going forward.

Alison Greenslade (03:54):
I'll point out the fact that we are no longer a bookstore, a used bookstore, and we are no longer a music venue and we are no longer like a fully fledged restaurant. So I know a lot of folks, especially MCC folks will or have lamented that sort of loss of those things. But I do wanna like highlight the fact that the reason why we sort oftook away some of those operational elements was because they were not serving our youth program in any way. Our youth program, none of the participants in our program were engaged in the selling of the books, in the live music aspect or in the food handling or catering aspect of our restaurant. So we really wanted to focus on the youth program. And so those things we had to give up so that we could focus on one thing really well, which was how can we train youth participants in this one business model, which we picked as the coffee shop.

Kyle Rudge (05:01):
Youth engagement can mean a lot of things. Rebecca, the Sam's Place Volunteer and Program Coordinator explains exactly what their desire is.

Alison Greenslade (05:09):
We've split our program into two parts. So volunteers will come in and they'll stay on for about a three to four month stint and they get to go through our core program. So that would include them learning, like cash handling, point of sale, customer service. They'll learn to like brew coffee and tea and they'll learn like dish pit and dish runner and things like that, but they won't learn barista. So what we learned in the old space was that there were some people that loved learning barista skills, some people that didn't, or some people that just didn't have the abilities to be able to do that right and then they felt left out. So what we've done is we've created a core program that doesn't include that, so they can go through that program. At the end of those three to four months, they can decide, do I want to learn the barista program or do I want to stay on for one more session of three months, keep going with what I've learned and they can choose between that and then it makes it a little bit more customizable. Everybody starts out on the same level. And then if you want to learn barista, then you move into that course and you learn all the fun crazy espresso drinks that we make, and then they'll be able to make those.

Kyle Rudge (06:21):
While business on the customer side is booming. That same level of interest is showing itself on the youth engagement side,

Rebecca Engel (06:28):
It's really neat because we've just actually started taking applicants and we can only take a certain amount, which is sad, but the reality, in order for us to be able to train people like well, and the response has been amazing. Like my email is full. We have people filling our applications like left and right. So it's amazing and it's very evident that Winnipeg needs more spaces like this because there's just not enough and we are trying our best to get as many people as we can into the program.

Kyle Rudge (07:00):
So why, why do this work? Why youth engagement? Why Sam's place? What does it hope to accomplish for the youth in Winnipeg?

Alison Greenslade (07:10):
Yeah, I think one of my favorite stories about a participant came about right before Covid. We had a participant who was engaged in gang activity and was of high school age, but not currently enrolled in school at all. They came to us and actually worked in our kitchen three times a week. They had a passion for food handling and they worked closely with our food services manager at the time and really built up - they really built up their self-compassion. They, I don't wanna like toot their own horn, but they did decide to go back into school after they were finished in our program. So they were with us for several months and at the very end of it, we did this big Christmas dinner celebration for the participants that were in the program for that season and they invited their guardians parentssponsors. And this participant had brought their grandparents who had always supported them and had encouraged them to come to Sam's place and try out this program. And they literally ran the kitchen for this Christmas dinner thing. And it was so cool to see them be fully confident in their skills and their abilities and their hard skills. Those tangible skills of like making food, serving food were great. There were so many compliments about the food that this participant had created. But I think the biggest thing that we could all see was that this person knew how much they were loved and cared for after that time with us, and that they really wanted to succeed in their life and grow and try new things. So they went back to school, but then they focused on going to an alternative school for cooking and they finished their degree. And that was a really, really cool story that we could share together.

Rebecca Engel (09:21):
So yeah, one of my favorite stories to share is about one participant that came with us through an organization. So we partner with lots of different organizations like SCE Life WorksSteps to Work, we'll partner with Program Project Lifeand they'll send us different students. Some have disabilities, some have mental health issues. It's just a wide range. And so we had one student come and the worker that was there was like, oh, they can just do dishes. Like they can do dishes and they can like sweep. That's all they're gonna do. And we were like, okay sure, we're gonna start off like that. Great. And the longer they were there, the more we were like, oh they can do a lot more than this. They, they can do a lot more than this. And so it was really neat 'cause we got to like work with that organization and be like, actually, like we've noticed these things, like why don't we try training them on this? They're like, oh, we've noticed these things. And like by the end of their time they were making drinks on bar. They were like applying to different Starbucks locations, It was just, it was such a drastic change and all it needed was like the kind of like push and confidence boost to be able to see such a big change, which was really cool. And like, they would come in and just make drinks for every single participant that would come in. They'd be like, it's okay. I can make it. I can make it at the end. And I was like, you were terrified to like, touch the bar two months ago. Like, it's just, it was really, really cool to see that and see the impact. And now they're, they're, yeah, applying everywhere to be a barista and it's really, really cool.

Kyle Rudge (10:54):
So where then does MCC fit into the lives of Alison and Rebecca?

Alison Greenslade (10:58):
Personally, I have a pretty strong connection to MCC. All four of my grandparents were heavily involved in MCC at all levels. Ten Thousand villages, MCC thrift. I had grandparents who volunteered at Akron year after year after year. And so I come from this familial legacy where we give and we support the work of MCC because MCC knows what's most important, important when it comes to relief and development and peacein the name of God. So yeah, it's a special place for me to be in, coming from the background and family that I come from.

Rebecca Engel (11:48):
I don't really have a connection to MCC until I started working here, which is super wild. I've grown up in Manitoba, like knew very little about MCC. I went to CMU for a little while, so like kind of would hear things from there, but like didn't really know until I like heard about this job. I started looking into it and I was like, oh my gosh, this is amazing. Like, so cool. Why don't more people know about this? We need to talk about this. Like, I'm like, you guys support this organization and how amazing it is.

Kyle Rudge (12:20):
What's the most surprising thing You learned?

Rebecca Engel (12:21):
I think one of the most surprising things I learned was that like, I knew it was a Christian organization and I understand the like Mennonite culture and connections, but I didn't understand that like MCC is doing relief, we're doing development, but you're not doing like necessarily missionary work. Which I think is very unique and really cool.

Kyle Rudge (12:44):
Both Alison and Rebecca are aficionados when it comes to food and coffee with formal experience that goes on for years before their work at Sam's place. So if anyone had a recommendation for us on what one should order when they attend Sam's place, it's them.

Alison Greenslade (13:00):
I gotta say, first of all, we get our croissants from Belle Baguette and the croissants are the size of your head. They are, and they are so good. So you gotta get the cheese croissant if we have any left. A hundred percent. And then for me, this is perhaps kind of wild, but we have this thing called the Taro root latte that we thought was gonna be seasonal, but we don't think it can be seasonal anymore because it has like been the biggest hit. I will always ask for an oat milk cappuccino.

Kyle Rudge (13:34):
An oat milk cappuccino?

Rebecca Engel (13:34):
Yeah. Very chill but if it's made well, it's like the most amazing thing ever.

Kyle Rudge (13:40):
MCC Threads is produced by KR Words with story assistance from Jason Dueck and Valorie Block. Thank you to Alison and Rebecca for your clear passion for youth engagement and coffee, and a willingness to share that with us. For more information about Sam's Place, I'm not going to recommend a website as I usually do. Instead, I'm going to suggest you make the trip to 140 Bannatyne Avenue in Winnipeg on a Saturday between 9:00 AM and 4:00 PM and see it for yourself. Perhaps even stop and get one of those giant croissants and a Taro root latte or an oat milk cappuccino and enjoy. I'm Kyle Rudge and this is MCC Threads.