Menasha — Goodwill NCW will close its Harmony Café coffee houses in Appleton and Green Bay, probably by year’s end, the organization announced today.
The LGBT program has served hundreds of young people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community for more than 17 years in the Fox Cities, and for four years in Green Bay. It will continue to be an important program for Goodwill NCW, said Bob Pedersen, Goodwill NCW’s president and CEO.
Those services include:
- LGBT Partnership: an ongoing leadership development and support group for youth ages 14-18 who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning and allied.
- Spectrum: a social and educational group for LGBTQ adults, and allies; and
- T-Force, a social group for transgender adults.
“Our organizational values are to ‘put people first … all people,’” Pedersen said.
“When we say that, we must be clear that our programs and services are focused on serving communities of people who need support. The LGBT services will be an ongoing strength of that compassionate, forward-looking mission.”
Pedersen said the decision to close Harmony Café locations was made after several years of financial losses. Over the past four years, the organization has made more than $1.1 million in mission contributions to keep the facilities open.
Without a space for performance or events, the Arts & Music program, also operated under the Harmony Café banner, will close at year’s end.
The downtown Appleton location, 233 E. College Ave., opened in 2007, after four years on N. Oneida St., behind the City Center. Before that, Harmony Café operated as a program in other downtown locations. Harmony Café became a program of Goodwill NCW in 2002.
“When we made the decision to build out Harmony Café as a standalone business, we knew there was a risk-reward scenario that was similar to many business ventures, but also considerably and socially different than others,” Pedersen said.
“We created Harmony Café as a safe-space area, where people of various backgrounds and orientations could meet without fear, in an atmosphere of support and acceptance and love. From that effort came other efforts in LGBTQ outreach, and those have created amazing inroads in the greater Fox Valley.”
“When we opened, I felt Harmony was a ‘safe-space’ island in this community and in Green Bay,” said Shannon Kenevan, a Harmony Café co-founder.
“More and more these days, there are more safe spaces, whether it is GSAs (Gay-Straight Alliances) in high schools, churches who are being more welcoming, businesses that are being more inclusive, etc. Harmony Café has certainly helped lead the way; now it is time for other people and organizations to pick up the torch.”
Harmony Café’s adjacent buildings in Appleton will be put up for sale (as one property) by Newmark Grubb Pfefferle, a real estate brokerage firm with offices in Appleton, Green Bay, Madison and Wausau.
Newmark Grubb Pfefferle will also work to acquire new tenants or owners for the Harmony Café facility at the Green Bay West Goodwill NCW retail store and training center, 1660 W. Mason St. That facility opened in 2008.
“Even after scaling back from a full-menu operation to a coffee house in January 2014 this year’s losses are ahead of the 2013 pace, and we can’t continue down that financial path,” Pedersen said. “As part of our continual assessment of mission contribution, we chose to focus on our LGBTQ programs.”
The LGBT Partnership hosted its annual fund-raiser, “UnMasquerade at The Marq,” on Oct. 28 to create awareness of, and raise money to continue, its work. More than 200 supporters attended the program.
“We appreciate the backing the LGBT Partnership has received from both the Fox Cities and Green Bay communities,” Pedersen said. “We want them to know that this work will continue, and that their support is both encouraged and cherished.”
Eighteen team members — in the coffee house operation or the programs/services operation — are affected by the closing of Harmony Cafe.
“We are committed to taking care of team members affected by these changes, and will provide support resources for them and their families,” Pedersen said. “Our hope is that the people affected will seek work opportunities at Goodwill.”
Many community organizations and partners have used Harmony Café space for meetings, performances and other gatherings. Through the end of September, a total of 5,640 people this year have used Harmony Café in both markets; from 2011-13, more than 22,000 people used the facilities.
Goodwill NCW will alert those groups to the need to find new “homes,” and offer space at its Menasha campus, community-room space at its retail stores in the Fox Cities and Green Bay, Appleton’s Shiner Center and elsewhere.
“We are grateful for the many supporters and partnerships that have emerged since 2002 when Harmony Café became a program of Goodwill,” Pedersen said. “We will seek every opportunity to continue those relationships.”