El Sereno charter school opens coffeehouse

EL SERENO, Calif. When you come to this coffee house in El Sereno you know you're not only buying a cup of coffee. You're also raising money for the nearly decade-old Semillas Community Charter School.

"Xocolatl is an amazing space that Semillas Community Schools owns and operates. We developed it to be able to help fund raise for our schools. I think all nonprofits, charter schools included, need to find more creative, proactive ways of both giving back and raising revenues," said Marcos Aguilar, the executive director of Semillas Charter School.

The charter school operates on about $6 million a year, and most of that money comes from the state, but charter school officials say there have been many times when the school had to borrow money at a high interest rate to make up for state funds that were extremely late getting to the school.

So with a low interest loan from a credit union, the 500 student body, K-12 charter school opened the Xocolatl Cacao, Tea and Coffee House more than a month ago.

"We developed a relationship with the Cal State L.A. Credit Union which is providing us a huge line of credit at an affordable price. Whereas last year, we had to pay exorbitant amounts to borrow money to deal with the state's cash flow crisis on the academic year and its impact on us. So we've already made a huge success there," explained Aguilar.

"I would much rather come here and have my coffee and do my work, they have free Internet, than go to Starbucks or other places like that, because I know I'm supporting the community and the other thing is that I need my coffee and they have really good coffee here," said Jaime Gutierrez, a customer.

"A lot of the parents work here directly with the coffee house, so it really is a community effort," said Luz Castellanos, a charter school spokesperson.

"Something like this is going to remind all communities that there's no reason to give up. Just because they aren't getting help from anyone else, doesn't mean we can't help ourselves and that's the idea," explained William Reyes, a parent who works at the coffee shop.

School officials say they aren't expecting to make a fast buck. They're thinking long term and hoping to find ways to pay the bills, no matter what budget crisis the state is facing.

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