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Scene in South Bend: The Well

| Thursday, October 2, 2014

scene-web-bannerKeri O'Mara | The Observer

Java. Cup of Joe. Mud. Whatever one may call it, most college students will claim that coffee is a vital part of their daily life, and the city of South Bend eagerly provides numerous coffee shops to supply the large demand. Offering a variety of coffee shops to quench a caffeine fix, there are many places that students can choose to frequent, but few fuse quality coffee with community social action. “The Well” coffee shop in the River Park neighborhood of South Bend offers a haven for coffee lovers and artists, all while assisting the local community.

The Well opened in 2012 at 2410 Mishawaka Avenue as a project of River Park Grace Church. Open Wednesday through Friday, The Well is entirely donation-based and entirely run by volunteers. “Our main thing is we started as a group of people from a church that wanted to find a unique way of being a blessing to our specific community,” explains lead pastor Ashley Swanson. “And so we felt like this was a way we could provide, more than anything, a space for the community, where people could experience art and culture, and with that have a financial means to support different projects in the community”. Community is something that the folks at the well certainly know a great deal about. Cozily nestled between John Adams High School and Indiana University South Bend, The Well provides a protected space for individuals of varying ages to congregate together. “It’s like a safe place,” explains a barista from John Adams High School. “You feel really comfortable, and it’s not like anything bad is going to happen here. You just feel like it’s a nice vibe, and you feel good when you come in here.”

The atmosphere is largely shaped by the time of day one decides to visit. College students seeking a quick midday coffee or coming for a noon study session are soon replaced by aspiring thespians and musicians from John Adams. Regardless of the time of day, however, one factor remains constant at The Well: a smiling, volunteer barista eagerly greeting all patrons. “All of our profits go back specifically to the River Park community, and everybody that works here, all of our baristas, are volunteers, and everything that somebody pays is all suggested donation,” Swanson notes.

As soon as patrons enter The Well, the connection to local culture and the arts is apparent. Paintings by local artists adorn the walls. A bulletin board displays upcoming galleries and concerts. A schedule displays information about Friday open mic nights. A quick visit to their Facebook page reveals the commitment to the community as it describes a $500 “micro-grant” to any local non-profit chosen by patrons of the coffee shop. “I am running a group called Speak Michiana and we use this place as a venue for one of our first poetry readings, and we are trying to set up more in the future,” says one local artist as he explained factors influencing his decision to volunteer at The Well. “They were really cool when we asked could we set our first thing up, they were really excited about it … they’ve made really good use of this space and it’s amazing how successful they’ve been with just donations.”

Pastor Ashley Swanson continues to describe the progress The Well has made in promoting local art:  “We want to enhance the conversation behind the art, so we have a meet-the-artist event with each artist that comes, and most of the music we try to keep local. We want to give people a platform to do their music … for the first time ever, we are backed up about 4-6 months in terms of art, with people wanting to host their art here, and we’re really excited about that.”

In terms of disposable income, college students have a reputation of being pressed for cash. For many students, coffee unfortunately acts as a big expense each week as they search for a way to power through their busy schedules. The Well coffee shop enables visitors not only to get quality coffee, but see their cash go back towards the community. And after experiencing all of the positive things The Well is doing in the community, you just might be tempted to volunteer yourself.

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