The neon yellow sign that now hangs on the side of Donkey Coffee and Espresso is more than just decoration — it’s a beacon for troubled youth who need a safe place in Athens.
Donkey joined Big Mamma’s Burritos and Goodwill this month in becoming an Athens City Sojourner’s “Safe Place.” If a teen or child runs away from home and needs somewhere to go, the popular coffee shop is now an option.
Sojourner’s Care Network runs the Safe Place program, which aims to create “a network of Safe Place locations … (which) extend the doors of the youth-service agency or emergency shelter throughout the community,” according to the organization’s website.
Approximately 1.6 million to 2.8 million children run away from home each year, according to the website.
Sojourner’s approached Donkey to begin the program because of the business’s values and availability, said Chris Pyle, the coffeehouse’s owner.
“I think the reason is because we’re here until 2 in the morning and someone gets here at 6 (a.m.),” Pyle said. “Plus, it’s right up our alley; we’re really into social justice, and so it was just a great match.”
Donkey’s employees received informational emails and watched instructional videos about what to do if someone comes into the store looking for help.
If a person comes into the shop seeking a Safe Place, an employee will give him or her a table and a drink, Pyle said. The employee will then call Sojourner’s to connect to services that would assist the person in need.
Since becoming a Safe Place, nobody has yet come into the store looking for help. However, Morgan Logan, a Donkey employee and OU senior studying organizational communication and sensitivity, said she thinks it’s important for these kinds of places to be available in Athens.
“(Athens) is a place where a lot of kids don’t have the best home life and I think it benefits them to have a place where they know someone’s there for them and there’s potential for a conversation,” Logan said.
According to Pyle, who also volunteers with the Goodworks homeless shelter, the Safe Place program helps to fill a void in the area that hasn’t been acted upon by the local government.
“I think there’s a big problem in Southeast Ohio,” Pyle said. “There’s more homeless than ever, and they have to turn away people every night. Along with that, there are teenagers who have trouble at home, and, according to Sojourner’s, there’s a need.”
Athens City Council member Chris Knisely said she appreciates businesses joining the program and the role they play in the city.
“I think it is a great idea to name Donkey a Safe Place, and I commend Pyle and the employees for going through the training,” Knisely said. “It shows that the community cares and collaborates to make our safe community even safer.”
According to the Sojourner’s website, there are 31 Safe Place locations in Athens, Gallia, Hocking, Meigs and Vinton counties. Several other sites in Athens County are currently training for the program.