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City Heights Coffee Spot Serves Community More Than Just A Caffeine Buzz

The outdoor City Heights Coffee House sits in an alley off El Cajon Boulevard...

Photo by Guillermo Sevilla

Above: The outdoor City Heights Coffee House sits in an alley off El Cajon Boulevard in San Diego's City Heights neighborhood, Aug. 24, 2017.

The menu at a City Heights coffee shop includes job training, community-building and a taste of home.

The menu at City Heights Coffee House includes Turkish, Ethiopian and Vietnamese beverages. Patrons can also elect for a "pay it forward" coffee, which covers a cup of joe for someone who may not be able to afford it.

Coffee House Co-founder Sterling Tran, who moved to City Heights four years ago, said the offerings were consciously selected to serve the low-income community that is home to a large immigrant population.

"People taste that and it tastes like home to them," Tran said.

For some, a coffee house may be a symbol of gentrification — in one Southern California community, a new java spot prompted protests — but in San Diego, the City Heights Coffee Shop aims to unite and empower the community.

Sterling said she and her co-founders opened the nonprofit shop after hearing from neighbors about the need for more local employment opportunities.

"What we heard from people was that there was a lack of jobs in the community and that they were travelling super far, you know an hour and half on a bus to go to their job where there wasn't really an opportunity to kind of move up," she said.

She said residents also expressed the desire for a community space, and noticed that neighbors tended to mingle near two local spots, one of which was a Starbucks. Based on this input, the City Heights Coffee House was born.

Coffee and Conversations: How do you deal with stress?

Where: City Heights Coffee House, 4323 El Cajon Blvd. (in the alley)

When: Sat., Aug. 26, 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.

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Since opening a year ago, the nonprofit launched a job training program that focuses on hiring candidates who may have employment barriers, such as a criminal record. It provides the current staff of three with life development courses, and Sterling said she plans to offer academic scholarships. The space has also played host to birthday and graduation parties, nonprofit meetings and local musicians.

This weekend, it will be the site of a discussion on stress management led by Mental Health America of San Diego County.

"And that's what we envisioned, that this would be a place that you can talk about anything," Tran said.

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