For Blue State Coffee, improving the community is a daily part of the business plan. The small Northeastern chain stands by its values on a local and global scale – supporting local organizations while reducing the environmental impact of a typical coffee shop.

Blue State Coffee has redefined the concept of a “community-oriented coffee shop.” With three locations in New Haven and five others throughout Hartford, Providence, and Boston, Blue State was founded with the mission to improve neighborhoods in which it operates. Each cafe provides a vibrant, comfortable place for people to meet and chat over coffee, while also supporting local initiatives through philanthropic donations. More broadly, Blue State — a certified B-Corporation — minimizes its environmental impact as much as possible, and works to provide a sustainable business ‘recipe’ for others to follow.

Blue State donates two percent of its total sales to local nonprofits improving life in the area. Recipients are selected based on customer suggestions and votes.

Each of the eight cafés supports four different causes over a six-month cycle, 32 causes each half-year period. The size of each gift is proportional to the number of customer votes. In addition to providing financial support, Blue State also spreads awareness — in stores and on its website — about the organizations it supports among customers and the larger Blue State network.

And the numbers add up: since 2007, Blue State has donated over $585,000 to 200 local nonprofit organizations. In New Haven, the three Blue State branches have been a factor in boosting local organizations, helping them to grow their efforts. 

Graduating students from one of Junta's English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, offered at six levels. (photo credit: Janine Dogolo)

Graduating students from one of Junta’s English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, offered at six levels.
(photo credit: Janine Dogolo)

In 2015, the New Haven nonprofit Junta for Progressive Action was a recipient of Blue State’s support. Junta is a resource for the New Haven Latino and low-income community, offering programs in adult education, economic development, and family management. The organization encourages their clients to take control of their economic and social well-being, while increasing their civic engagement.  

“We were so appreciative to have been part of Blue State’s giving,” praises Junta’s Director of Development, Janine Dogolo. A $2,600 donation funded the organization’s economic development program. The program provides employment counseling, computer and financial literacy training, and free tax preparation services. Through consultations and monthly workshops, clients gain the tools needed to increase their income and achieve economic stability.

Another recipient of Blue State’s generosity has been the Warrior-Scholar Project (WSP). Warrior-Scholar runs free and immersive 1-2 week academic training programs for current and former enlisted service members pursuing higher education, with participants hosted at top American universities. Under the guidance of both student-veterans, who have already successfully transitioned from the military to college, and dedicated professors, students that take part in the project acquire the analytical reading, writing, and discussion skills crucial to academic success and learn about what challenges to expect during their transition. WSP empowers student-veterans to develop and re-discover the skills and confidence necessary to succeed in the classroom and equips them to be leaders on campuses nation-wide.

“My experience with the Warrior-Scholar Project has been essential to my progress this semester… I could not be more grateful for the knowledge and resources that WSP has made available to me.”

This past summer, a $3,000 contribution from Blue State supported WSP at Yale University, one of 11 academic training programs run by the organization in 2015. The Yale session hosted 28 student-veterans, many of whom went on to enroll in four-year bachelor degree programs in the fall including Wesleyan, Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, Vassar, Dartmouth, and the University of Rhode Island. Some participants that are still in the military will soon be enrolling in similar schools, while others plan to transfer from community colleges to four-year institutions.

Yale WSP student Greg Zaborski annotates some of the texts assigned in the Humanities. While the majority of WSP courses are Humanities-based, the program recently piloted one STEM course, and will have two STEM courses in 2016. (photo credit: Freddie Reed)

Yale WSP student Greg Zaborski annotates some of the texts assigned in the Humanities. While the majority of WSP courses are Humanities-based, the program recently piloted one STEM course, and will have two STEM courses in 2016.
(photo credit: Freddie Reed)

Laura Cabrera, a member of the 2015 WSP Yale program, served for eight years in the U.S. Navy as a Farsi crypto-linguist. Now in her first semester at Columbia University, Laura credits WSP with aiding her transition from the military to a college campus: “My experience with the Warrior-Scholar Project has been essential to my progress this semester… I could not be more grateful for the knowledge and resources that WSP has made available to me.”

WSP coursework (readings, writings, and assignments) typically focuses on the humanities and highlights themes of democracy and liberty, but the 2015 Yale program piloted a STEM track for approximately ten students, which will be expanded to an additional university in 2016.

“Blue State Coffee on York Street is located three blocks from the Yale Law School, where students attended seminars and lectures for the two-week program. Many were fueled by Blue State’s coffee and espresso drinks, working well into the night reading and writing papers.”

WSP’s Director of Organizational Development, Gina Bartolomeo, notes that Blue State’s relationship with WSP continued even after its initial financial support. “Blue State Coffee on York Street is located three blocks from the Yale Law School, where students attended seminars and lectures for the two-week program. Many were fueled by Blue State’s coffee and espresso drinks, working well into the night reading and writing papers.”

Yale WSP students in a STEM course. WSP recently added STEM classes to its curriculum this past summer. (photo credit: Freddie Reed)

Yale WSP students in a STEM course. WSP recently added STEM classes to its curriculum this past summer.
(photo credit: Freddie Reed)

With three Blue State locations scattered around the Yale campus, Blue State’s cafes constantly fill with students studying, writing, or chatting over coffee. While the lively and welcoming atmosphere provides an inviting place for students to convene, Blue State’s philanthropic efforts also support many student-run organizations including the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project (YHHAP) and the Yale Sustainable Food Program (YSFP).

YHHAP, an entirely student-run organization, holds 11 service projects ranging from a weekly soup kitchen to a case management agency that provides housing and employment assistance.  Money received from Blue State funded multiple YHHAP Spring 2014 programs in New Haven, including No Closed Doors, a student-run case management agency where students assist clients in writing job applications and resumes. The donation was also used to fund two Project Homeless Connect events — one in the spring and one in the fall — where local businesses and service providers gathered to offer free services to homeless and near-homeless individuals. 2015 was the first year that YHHAP was able to hold two Project Homeless Connect events in one year, thanks to Blue State’s contribution.

With help from Blue State and elsewhere, the Yale Sustainable Food Program established the Global Food Fellows program, which provides fellowships allowing students to team up with a community partner to pursue hands-on projects that support a long-term sustainable food career goal and curricular interest. Past fellows have traveled around the world, forging lasting relationships from Ethiopia and Bolivia to China and Nepal. Isabelle Napier, a current Lazarus Fellow at the YSFP, notes that “Blue State’s generous donation has helped to make this possible.”

While Blue State places a strong focus on local philanthropy and raising awareness, the business is also committed to reducing its environmental impact on a global scale. Through sustainable practices — sourcing beans ethically, providing fair trade coffee, and building relationships with suppliers — the company stays true to its core mission, to “reflect, improve, and inspire our communities.” Best of all is the example Blue State sets by pursuing a triple bottom line, and showing it can be done in the real world.


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