“I was raised in Idaho, in a small town of 2,400 people. I don’t want to move back,” Carla laughs, “but as I made my home in San Diego I missed knowing people in my community and seeing familiar faces.”
Twenty years ago, Carla moved to San Diego shortly after her college graduation to begin her adult life in a big city, teaching at a private high school. Today she is a dedicated wife and mom of two industrious teenagers. After a series of moves around Southern California her family settled in Carmel Valley, a suburb in the northwest corner of San Diego, in 2008. In this flourishing neighborhood, Carla rediscovered the familiarity of community at a local coffee shop near her new home.
After three weeks of running into the same Starbucks every morning following school drop-offs, a man enjoying coffee with some friends stopped Carla as she was rushing past him and asked her to introduce herself.
She did, and ended up sitting with them to enjoy her coffee and the amiable conversation. It was a welcomed change from consuming her iced vanilla latte alone while unpacking boxes. “I left Starbucks that day feeling like it was nice to meet some people in my neighborhood,” said Carla, “But what I didn’t expect was that it would grow into deep and meaningful relationships.”
The following day she sat with this same group of people, getting to know them while sipping her morning coffee. And eight years later she continues to gather every weekday morning with these friends at the local Starbucks to share life with her “coffee group”. A community that is bound by a common love for coffee, camaraderie, and good conversation.
It turns out that this group of friends have been meeting for over 14 years. New people have been added, familiar faces have moved away, but a common core providing consistency and reliability has always remained. Group members range in ages from 14-75, spanning many demographics. “I never expected to have such a wide circle of people in my life,” says Carla, “Investing in friendships with people of different faiths, beliefs, values, and political perspectives has helped me to be a better listener. I’ve realized that despite our differences we all have a similar desire to be accepted and included in other people’s lives.”
Carla – who is committed to the beliefs and daily practices of Christian faith – adds, “When you are raised in the church you feel like your community is supposed to be inside the church. But my community formed from befriending some wonderful people outside of my church. We share these amazing connections simply because we are all intentional about deepening our relationships with our neighbors beyond saying hello regardless of our differences. Everyday I get to do the very thing Christ directly instructed His followers to do: Go, Love, and Live out His word in our neighborhoods.”
Over the years, this close-knit group of coffee lovers have expanded their connections far beyond gathering at the local coffee shop. They visit each other’s homes for birthday parties, Superbowl festivities, and Thanksgiving feasting. They meet up for Happy Hour with their spouses, and participate in significant celebrations with one another’s extended family, friends, and neighbors.
If you have a desire to know people in your neighborhood better Carla suggests, “Make an effort of doing the same thing on a regular basis with the intention of getting to know people. Most people want to talk about themselves, and don’t often get a chance to. Just asking people at a local coffee shop questions like, ‘What are you doing today?’ can open the door to friendship.”
And she adds, “Most people respond positively to being noticed. But not everyone chooses to sit down and join the conversation. Many people have a lot going on in life. Everyone has their journey and a ‘no’ to our invitation for friendship is not a personal rejection. It’s just not the right season for them to develop a new relationship. Building community often requires extra grace for others and for ourselves.”