When Maritza “Jeanett” Martinez went to college at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, she never intended to open her own coffee shop. A double major in counseling and theology, she had other ideas for what she would do when she finished school. However, while doing an internship in Muscatine mentoring several high school aged girls, she realized that operating a coffee shop might just let her use her skills to the fullest potential. She recounted, “I did an internship here in town mentoring high school students, and there wasn’t a good place to go to have a good talk. After I went back to school in Chicago, I thought about coming back. I wanted to open a coffee shop where people could be comfortable.” Now with the Coffee Belt in almost its third year, Martinez has created a café that helps the community.
In addition to providing a welcoming atmosphere that encourages people to relax and spend quality time together, the Coffee Belt helps people from all walks of life in several ways. As a business that attracts and hires many high school students, Martinez takes the time to mentor her workers whenever needed. From teaching them on-the-job skills to the kinds of expectations bosses have for their workers, Martinez makes sure that those who work at the Coffee Belt have the workplace readiness skills they will need to do well in other jobs.
Only two weeks ago, Coffee Belt started a new community project, their random acts of kindness program. Martinez revealed that her employees came up with the idea at a recent staff meeting. “It was really a collaboration of ideas my staff had,” she said. “It was a way to encourage people to be kind. There’s enough negativity in the world and in the news, so I wanted to remind people to choose kindness.”
From this initial meeting, Coffee Belt employees worked together to create an initial list of random acts of kindness people could do, which they wrote on slips of paper and placed in a jar next to the counter. When people check out, they can take a slip, and Martinez encourages them to carry out the act listed there. To bring more awareness to this program, Martinez also encourages people to post photos of themselves or others doing these random acts of kindness on Facebook, using #Coffee Belt as a way to identify them.
As Coffee Belt’s random acts of kindness program picks up speed, Martinez and her employees look forward to making a difference in the community. “It makes us feel like we’re making a difference and doing something different,” stated Martinez. With this simple program, partnered with other community focused events (such as Member’s Community Credit Union donating $200 of coffee to customers and the shop’s rose pass along next week) the Coffee Belt continues to stay active in the community. Through its unique forms of outreach, Martinez has realized her dream of becoming a counselor for Muscatine.