Wildflyer Aims to Combat Youth Homelessness Through Specialty Coffee

Wildflyer assists young people experiencing homelessness through employment at their mobile coffee cart and a life skills development program.


Photos courtesy of Wildflyer Coffee

In the Twin Cities, Wildflyer Coffee’s Carley Kammerer and Ben Griswold are using specialty coffee to combat youth homelessness.

According to Wilder Research, an estimated 6,000 Minnesota youth experience homelessness on any given night. Thus, Gutter Punk Coffee launched in 2017 with a DIY mobile coffee cart and the intention of hiring these youths. Prior to this, co-founder Carley spent several years in the Twin Cities in social work before noticing a common pattern in the inability of her clients to keep jobs after being hired. In 2016, she met Ben, who wanted to channel his finance experience into social enterprise. They decided to use coffee as a catalyst to provide job training and life skills for youths experiencing homelessness. Since the company’s inception, they’ve changed their name to Wildflyer Coffee and received their 501(c)(3) nonprofit recognition; the team has employed 10 young people and operated booths at two farmers markets in the Minneapolis area twice a week, roasting their own coffee sourced from the city’s own Cafe Imports.

Wildflyer Coffee employs young people experiencing homelessness and prepares them for future success.

“I believe coffee shops provide one of the best training grounds for cultivating the skills our youth need to end homelessness effectively,” says Carley. Her parents co-owned a café with their local church when she was growing up, and she too was a barista throughout high school and college. “The soft skills learned through the foodservice industry are essential, no matter what field our youth transition into after graduating our program.”

When the Wildflyer crew isn’t behind the bar, they’re operating a nine-month-long youth training and life skills program called the Youth Development Academy, which brings in cohorts about twice a year. In its first month, Wildflyer trains employees on coffee skills and customer service knowledge, and later goes into personal and professional development, offering education in relationships and communication, self-care, and planning for the future. Once students have exited the academy, they’re eligible for a year of post-program follow-up, in which program managers work with other local businesses to help employ these youths.

Wildflyer regularly works with other companies in the local coffee community. Here, they work with True Stone Coffee, which sponsored their August 2019 skills group.

One of the many participants who has successfully exited the program is Akiyah. Part of the first hire of cohorts in 2017, she was very young at the time and was struggling to finish high school due to her housing instability. “I was always so impressed by how much she was handling and how hard she was working,” says Carley. “She ended up coming back to work with us for a second summer as a special events manager because I always knew I could rely on her.”

Akiyah is now finishing up high school, working consistently, and has an apartment that she shares with her son. “As of right now I see myself becoming more professional because [the program] has taught me to be patient, learn how to work in fast-paced environments, and also how to work with and get along with people that have different personalities,” Akiyah says. “I feel like I’ve become more efficient altogether, but more when it comes to being on time for work. And the last thing [the program] taught me was how to talk to people. When I first came I wasn’t really sure what to say and how to say it, but now I have a couple different things I can say or ask customers, just to engage in conversation with them.”

Wildflyer is now ready to spread its wings into a permanent retail location. They need $165,000 to do this, and they’re hosting a latte art throwdown with Dogwood Coffee to fundraise for it, which will be judged by their own youth employees. Money from the buy-in will go toward the fundraising goal, and attendees will also have the chance to donate money to the future space.

To read more about Wildflyer Coffee and lend a hand yourself via donation, check out their website for the latest updates on the blog. They will also be launching an Indiegogo campaign for the space on October 17; check out a preview of it here.

Wildflyer is raising money to fund a permanent retail space through a latte art throwdown with Dogwood Coffee.
About Katrina Yentch 221 Articles
Katrina Yentch (she/her) is a freelance writer and Barista Magazine's Online Editor. When she's not writing, you can find her napping, cooking, and drinking whatever's on drip.