By Sarah Richardson
The stay-at-home order executed by Gov. Jim Justice in March of this year obviously threw a wrench into day-to-day life for all West Virginians, and, subsequently, many local groups have since been forced to adjust to the “new normal” in order to continue providing services to the community. The Hub, a program powered by the High Rocks Educational Organization, utilized this change as a new opportunity to shift their student café into something much bigger, and quickly morphed into an eatery staple for the Lewisburg area.
“The Hub’s mission is to provide a place for those in the community to eat, create, socialize, organize, and learn,” states their website. “It’s a centrally-located, safe, inclusive, and fun space open to the public. In addition to hosting workshops, classes, activities, projects, events, homework help, and more geared towards teenagers and young adults, The Hub also houses two student-operated businesses, The Hub and Tech Express, serving customers of all ages.”
With the stay-at-home order and school shutdown, their popular afterschool program was derailed, and they quickly looked for ways to stay active within the community.
“The Hub is an afterschool program that began in 2016 in Lewisburg as a safe space for young people to go after school and in the evenings,” explained High Rock’s Development and Marketing Manager Sarah Mansheim. “In 2018 we moved into the Lee Street complex where the old elementary school used to be, in the old kindergarten and first grade classrooms under the cafeteria. Everything was going along great when COVID hit. We obviously couldn’t have an afterschool program with the stay-at-home order, and our Executive Director Sarah Riley grew immediately concerned about food security [in the community].”
The student café, located at The Hub, is a full-service coffee, sandwich, and salad bar. Run by students, The Hub Café provides them an opportunity to learn and earn while managing a youth social enterprise with a triple bottom line of people, place, and profit.
She added, “A lot of this is done in partnership with our Youth Social Enterprise barista program. High school and college students have the opportunity to learn how to run a restaurant and earn money at the same time. While a lot of people work in restaurants in high school, they don’t usually learn a lot of the managerial skills, but they learn that here.”
Another great part of High Rock’s programs is they are all offered at no cost to the participants.
After the stay-at-home order was executed, “We were put onto an emergency basis to operate to the general public,” said Mansheim. “Since The Hub couldn’t be an after-school program, we were able to pivot and provide dinner specials to the entire community.”
Café Manager Keveney Bair starting working with High Rocks right at COVID hit the state, and helped transform the café into the eatery it is today. “We hired her, and her first week was actually the start of COVID lockdown,” said Mansheim. “Thank goodness she stayed with us!”
Once the word started to get out about the daily dinner specials, the Café started selling more meals than ever before.
“On average, we are serving 60 dinners a day. We do sometimes sell out, our homemade pepperoni rolls and chicken pot pies tend to sell out,” said Mansheim, “and they are delicious. Because of the USDA guidelines, it’s also very healthy. All of our meals have to fit the guidelines for a healthy meal. Since we began serving the community, we have served over 7,000 meals. We know we are going to continue through next May.”
The Hub has a funding partnership with the Federal Feeding Program, which also helps with school lunches. The meals are free to anyone 18 and under, and their adult meals only cost $5.
“None of this would be possible without our seven awesome baristas here will us all week long,” Mansheim added. “We have a pop-up market every Tuesday with fresh baked goods, fancy coffee drinks, gorgeous café style cookies, muffins, and more, all baked in-house.”
While they are still unable to offer an afterschool program, The Hub has instead become a site for individualized tutoring appointments.
“We have a partnership with Dinsmore and Shoals law offices, where they also are offering tutoring through their attorneys. We are a site for that program, as well,” Mansheim said.
“The Hub isn’t just one program; it’s all of these partnerships, our pop-up market, and so much more.”
To set up a tutoring appointment or to learn more about The Hub, call 304-647-4994, or visit their website at highrocks.org. They also post their daily dinner specials on their Facebook page at @TheHub, as well as through their mailing list.