After a Year Combating Human Trafficking, Houston Coffee Shop Looks for New Location to Continue Fight
Erica Raggett always dreamed of opening a coffee shop. Every time she walked into one, she scouted the place -- sometimes aware, sometimes subconsciously. Whether as a Teach for America instructor in a north Houston middle school, or while she spent time in Philadelphia as a TFA administrator, or after a return to work as a YES Prep teacher in Houston, Raggett never wavered.
Nearly a year after first opening its doors, A 2nd Cup is looking for a new home.
"I always loved coffee shops -- to go there to work, or to study, or just to spend time," Raggett, who helps run A 2nd Cup coffee shop, told Hair Balls earlier this week. Sitting next to her husband, Mark, Raggett was explaining her affinity for the independent shops that have begun to pepper Houston over the past few years.
But at the same time, Raggett couldn't just toss herself into something without knowing there was something larger to be gained. "I couldn't imagine working somewhere and not helping others," she said. And so the notion of the coffee shop sat, remaining but an idea while Raggett and her husband helped the students at YES with science and math.
And then, come late 2010, Raggett joined her husband for an event at their local church. It was a presentation from Love146, a Connecticut-based organization founded to combat child trafficking and exploitation. "They brought this camera into a brothel [in Thailand], and you could see all these girls just lined up," Raggett recounted, discussing the preteens available for the sex tourists. "And their eyes -- they had these eyes that were just empty. There was nothing there. And there was one girl, she was No. 146. She looked like she just got there, because she just had some fight left in her eyes."
That young woman, nameless and numbered, had inspired Love146 to spend the previous decade working to combat child trafficking. The group was simply looking for donations from members of the Houston church that Erica and Mark attended. Instead, while Erica and Mark watched this girl, this 146, peer back, something coalesced.
"What if I used a coffee shop to stop human trafficking?" Raggett remembers wondering. "And it really was a brilliant idea," adds Mark, who immediately jumped aboard the notion. Soon, a name came to them -- A 2nd Cup. A second chance. Another shot at another life for the victims, especially the children, of human trafficking.
Of course, the process would be neither quick nor simple. While the responses ranged from supportive to ecstatic -- "There were really only positive feedback that we got," says Raggett -- hurdles remained. Filing for a 501(c)(3) exemption revealed a handful of other coffee shops around the country that offered similar ideas, running from basic nonprofits to gangland rehabilitation. But there was nothing about trafficking. Nor was there anything in Houston. This was entirely new.
In an entirely unfortunate way, Houston was in prime position to host a trafficking-focused coffee shop. A quarter of all American-based trafficking victims are in Texas, with a plurality coming within Houston. Cantinas, massage parlors, secluded houses and apartments -- the locations are as innocuous as they are difficult to shutter. Just a few weeks ago, 500 Indians were freed from Signal International LLC, which lawyers claimed treated the immigrants as modern indentured servants.
But Raggett's business plan found a receptive audience. Meetings with local figures, as well as a happenstance run-in with local roaster Matt Toomey, helped spread the word. A board coalesced. Designs were drawn up. Pastors at the Vineyard Church, where Erica and Mark heard the initial Love146 presentation, got wind of the plans, and offered up a little-used space to the pair.
"It really was a terrifically unattractive space," says Mark, scrolling through photos of what the room once housed. Cobbling together a team of 50 volunteers -- some they knew, some they'd never met -- Erica and Mark began rehabbing the place last summer. Graphic stencils dotted the walls, and couches soon replaced the empty expanse. The team even covered the floor in artistic, mesmerizing rhombi. Soon, where once lay a bare, unassuming space now stood one of the most appealing -- both aesthetically and altruistically -- locations for Houston coffee-drinkers.