The healing power of a warm latte
This is a story of strength and coffee.
Thin Blue Line Espresso opened in Graham-Kapowsin High School’s student store last week, two years to the day after four Lakewood Police officers were gunned down inside Parkland’s Forza Coffee Company.
The $4,500 Simonelli espresso machine that makes the high school caffeine possible was a gift from Kelly Richards and her children. They are the family of Lakewood Police Officer Greg Richards, who died alongside colleagues Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold and Ronald Owens.
The school community has suffered with the Richards family, and done much to help them heal. Coffee has figured in the journey from the instant of the tragedy. It’s a symbol the families, law enforcement officers, and now the school, have managed to turn into an engine for good work.
“My mom just wanted to give back to the school,” Jami-Mae Richards, a senior at Graham-Kapowsin, said on the espresso counter’s third day. “And I drink a lot of coffee. And I’m usually late to school.”
She won’t be late for class, she said, if she’s on-shift at the shop, which brews from 6:55 to 7:15 a.m.
Tardiness turned out to be one of the cafe’s biggest selling points, said its faculty adviser, Tanya Torres-Steen.
“So many kids are late because they stop at the Starbucks at Safeway,” she said.
Getting them into the school for their coffee puts them first in line for caffeine, which senior Melanie Carter said they need, need, need. High school students work and study late and get to school early. Carter was yawning at 6:55 a.m., a time of day at war with her body clock.
“It’s really good,” she said of her drink. “It’s making me stay awake and not fall asleep in class.”
Some people question whether high-schoolers should drink coffee, but the reality is that they do. Torres-Steen noted that Thin Blue Line’s low-fat milk and sugar-free syrup choices can make a healthier alternative to sodas and high-sugar energy drinks.
Knowing how to make them is a bonus. Caffe d’Arte, the store’s coffee supplier, gave the students barista training. In the Pacific Northwest, that’s a perpetually marketable job skill.
Then there’s the income. Thanks to the Richards family, no equipment must be paid off. That means there’s a profit in every $2 purchase, the flat rate for drinks. It will help pay expenses at DECA conferences for students interested in marketing and entrepreneurship, said senior Alix Spurgeon.
Running the store, and now the espresso stand, is practice that will come in handy at the conferences. The networking that goes on at those events has led to internships for students.
It was networking of another kind that bound Graham-Kapowsin students, teachers, staff and families together in the terrible winter of 2009 when Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputy Kent Mundell also was shot while responding to a domestic violence incident outside Eatonville. He died of his wounds a month after Greg Richards and his colleagues died.
The children of the high school include or have included Jami-Mae and her brother, Austin Richards, who graduated last year, and Mundell’s daughter, Kirsten.
“We have quite a few law enforcement children here,” said Torres-Steen, whose husband works for the Washington State Patrol.
They are the children of deputies and police officers, firefighters and soldiers – all who face danger to keep other people safe. With the fatal shootings two years ago, the reality fell on the school.
“It’s engraved, embedded in our hearts,” Torres-Steen said. “We were the hardest-hit school. It’s all within our community.”
Counselors made it safe for children to experience their grief and work through their disbelief. Teachers listened as students tried to talk their way through it. They gave their colleagues, and their students’ parents, the same courtesy and compassion.
Through all of it, there’s been coffee.
Forza has given the community opportunities to grieve and contribute. A memorial wall and four flagpoles were dedicated a year ago outside the shop where the four Lakewood officers were slain.
“You can walk into any Forza, and it’s a place of healing,” Torres-Steen said.
When Jami-Mae wanted to learn barista skills on her way to a career in restaurants, Forza trained and hired her.
“They gave Jami the support to get that experience,” Torres-Steen said. “To not have that negative place.”
Now, every other school day, she takes that skill to a positive place – Thin Blue Line Espresso.
Kathleen Merryman: 253-597-8677 kathleen.merryman@ thenewstribune.com