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Volunteer brews compassion at social enterprise in Barrie

Higher Grounds Coffee House in downtown Barrie provides meaningful experience to volunteers, assistance to those in need

A volunteer at Higher Grounds Coffee House says the appreciation she gets for a small act of kindness is the most gratifying part of assisting people in need.

“Giving out a coffee to someone who has been sleeping outside and is freezing, and seeing them smile — it just makes my day,” says Kathy, whose last name has been withheld for privacy.

'Coffee fuels compassion' is the motto of Higher Grounds, which is located in downtown Barrie. On top of serving coffee drinks, breakfast, lunch, and baked goods, the Dunlop Street West shop operates a pay-it-forward program whereby customers can buy an additional meal or hot drink in advance for someone in need.

The remainder of the company’s revenue also helps individuals by providing job skills and soft-skills training at the coffee shop.

Kathy was diagnosed with depression years ago and, despite being on medication, says negative thoughts and feelings often flooded her brain and made it difficult for her to function every day.

That’s when a friend who volunteered at Higher Grounds suggested she apply to volunteer at the shop so she could have something to do during the week.

“At first, I was nervous about making mistakes and not being liked, but the staff welcomed and supported me in everything I tried,” she tells BarrieToday.

After a couple of weeks, Kathy started to notice the negative thoughts that used to overtake her life were more manageable because of the community around her.

“Volunteering at Higher Grounds has given me friends I never would’ve met otherwise and has opened my eyes to the bigger picture around me,” she adds.

The volunteers at Higher Grounds first start working in the dish pit. Then, as they get more comfortable, they are able to learn sandwiches, coffee, and the espresso machine.

Abby Bennett, a representative of Higher Grounds, says the social enterprise was created first and foremost as a job-training program for people coming out of addiction recovery.

“It has now expanded to include anyone looking for job skills, and those just wanting to help their community,” she says.

Bennett tells BarrieToday that a typical day for Kathy is doing dishes, making sandwiches, and chatting with customers and staff.

“She has made some really sweet relationships with both pay-it-forward and regular customers,” Bennett says.

For Kathy, the best part of her volunteering experience is building a community of people who support her, which she had never had before.

“There was one time I was going through one of my depressive lows and one of my co-workers noticed, took me aside, gave me a hug, and reminded me that I am loved, wanted and enough," she says. 

In co-ordination with Higher Grounds, the Hope Centre provides volunteers with a mentor and a customized program, including counselling, psychotherapy, and addiction recovery, along with other faith-based, in-community supports.

“I can honestly say that my life is better now than it was before I joined the Hope family,” says Kathy.

The Higher Grounds Coffee House is at 69A Dunlop St. W., while the Hope Centre is located next door at 34 Mary St.

For more information about Higher Grounds, visit