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Interview: Sip of Hope Coffee, Changing the Conversation Around Mental Health

By Danielle Hobson

We had the opportunity to sit down with the team over at Sip of Hope – a local Chicago coffee shop that’s changing the conversation around mental health and creating a whole lot of suicide prevention awareness. The impact they’re making both in the community and through their coffee sales is nothing short of inspiring.

While September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, we believe this is an important topic every day of every month. Let’s amplify all the resources we can to continue to help and support the people in our lives who may need it.

You never know someone else’s struggle – open hearts and open minds can begin to move the needle on mental health.

How did Sip of Hope get started?

Brian Kmiecik, Sip of Hope Cafe Manager: Sip of Hope was created from a partnership between Dark Matter Coffee and Hope For The Day.

Dark Matter Coffee had been roasting a special blend of coffee for Hope For The Day with resources printed on the back of the bag. It was available at local Whole Foods and several Dark Matter Coffee locations.

After seeing the success in putting resources on a product that folks use daily, Hope For The Day saw an opportunity to continue destigmatizing the conversation around mental health in a cafe setting. In October 2020, Sip of Hope stepped away from Dark Matter and began roasting our own coffee.

Staff is trained in AFSP’s “Mental Health First Aid” course, and customers can browse a selection of mental health resources when they visit.

What’s your mission?

Matt Fuchs, Senior Director of Finance: Sip of Hope is the world’s first café where 100% of proceeds support proactive suicide prevention and mental health education. We are dedicated to breaking the silence around suicide and mental health, one cup at a time.

100% of proceeds are donated to Hope for the Day – can you share what Hope for the Day is and why you donate to their programs?

Matt Fuchs, Senior Director of Finance: Hope For The Day, is the parent company of Sip of Hope. Hope For The Day is a nonprofit organization based in Chicago, IL, whose mission is to empower the conversation on proactive suicide prevention and mental health education. We achieve this through outreach and education. We try to meet people where they are and not where we expect them to be, so that means outreach at events for at-risk populations, fringe communities, and anywhere we are welcomed.

We also have a series of educations for the general population, military and first responders, and the LGBTQ+ community. One of the keys to our success, and something we stress, is that although we have a Clinical Oversight Board, our educators are not clinicians. This leads to our educations and outreach being conversational by establishing a common ground.

Other than being the parent company, donations go to Hope For The Day to raise the visibility of mental health resources and assist in funding these educations.

What have been some of your greatest learnings since opening Sip of Hope?

Matt Fuchs, Senior Director of Finance: For me personally, learning how many people are interested in mental health and how the café is used as a conversation starter or conduit to begin discussions within families, friend groups, and other communities around mental health. Coffee is a perfect vehicle for this.

Brian Kmiecik, Sip of Hope Cafe Manager: Mental health impacts people from all backgrounds, ages, races, and genders. Many of the conversations I have had at Sip of Hope are with survivors of suicide seeking a safe place to feel valid in their feelings and experiences. Simply showing compassion and empathy to someone who is struggling can leave a lasting impact. Many folks are unaware of local mental health resources or are unsure of how to access them, often due to financial limitations or the stigma of asking for help.

There’s still so much stigma around suicide, and talking about it, being a part of changing that narrative is so important. Have you seen the conversation shift over the years?

Brian Kmiecik, Sip of Hope Cafe Manager: I’ve noticed a huge shift in how folks are talking about mental health. Terminology is changing to be more compassionate and less criminalizing, and people are starting to realize things like counseling, self-care, and therapy are more common and healthy!

Matt Fuchs, Senior Director of Finance: I come from a background in public accounting and SEC reporting corporations, and I am so glad to say I have seen a change in the past ten years. Especially within the COVID period, more and more people and companies are open to the idea that mental health is just as important as physical health. The work that Sip of Hope and Hope For The Day do helps to not only destigmatize the topics, but make them a lot more approachable and human. Besides stigma (and maybe a stigma on its own) is the idea that metal health is a binary subject where you are either 100% ok or 100% unhealthy, and that is not the truth. Seeing changes in the nuances within society is encouraging.

What’s the best way for people, especially those local to Chicago, to bring about awareness?

Matt Fuchs, Senior Director of Finance: Of course, Hope For The Day has many volunteer and education opportunities, and while those are great, I think the most simple way to bring about awareness is to learn about your own mental health and make it known to your community that you are open to talking about mental health.

For me, I wear shirts that display some sort of message on understanding mental health, and that has led to a ton of conversations on where people can get help for themselves, how they can help family, what needs to change still, and so on. The key is to start the conversation.

People will want to know – are there other locations or plans for additional Sip of Hope locations in the future?

Matt Fuchs, Senior Director of Finance: We have an online retail store at where our coffees and merchandise are sold, and yes, we are looking to expand in the near future. In adding locations, it takes a while to ensure that you have buy in from the local community and can ensure that the mission comes first.

As a team doing so much good when times can feel extremely dark, what keeps you going each day for such an important cause?

Matt Fuchs, Senior Director of Finance: As I mentioned before, we aren’t clinicians; we are people in the community, and we have experienced (a lot of us) mental health issues ourselves. So, to be able to be understood and to understand people more through our events really helps keep the fire burning.

Brian Kmiecik, Sip of Hope Cafe Manager: Personally, it’s the direct impact I have seen Hope For The Day and Sip of Hope make. I have spoken with people who visited Sip and left with resources and began a new journey towards improving their mental health or were able to provide resources to a friend or family member in need.

Survivors of suicide who felt shame due to stigma have had heartfelt conversations with us and have been able to remove some of that weight from their shoulders. If folks who visit our cafe leave with just a *little* more hope than they came in with, every cup of coffee, every pastry, every 6 am shift, every simple “Hey, how’s it going today?” is worth it.

To learn more about Sip of Hope, or Hope For The Day, visit them online. If you’re in the Chicago, IL, area, you can stop in and meet the team of Sip of Hope at 3039 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago, Illinois. You can follow them on social media at their Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter pages.

Thank you to the team for this incredible interview.

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