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Arboretum Coffee assists local immigrants, refugees through barista apprenticeship

Collegian | Abigail Burns
Arboretum Coffee, a newly opened nonprofit cafe, sits on the south side of the Colorado State University campus on Prospect Road April 7.

Bathed in the light of antique stained-glass lamps, warm paint tones frame a long dark-paneled coffee bar, bold cursive outlines a menu of hand-crafted items and every dollar spent goes right back to the baristas behind the counter. 

Located on 221 W. Prospect Road, one of Fort Collins’ newest coffee shops, Arboretum Coffee, has a unique mission of helping the community’s newest arrivals. 


“We’re a nonprofit craft coffee shop working to empower refugees and immigrants and our community through apprenticeship,” said Hannah Norris, founder and executive director of Arboretum Cafe.

Norris was originally inspired to open the shop after an unexpected influx of refugees and immigrants in Fort Collins and Colorado in 2020, most arriving from Ukraine, Venezuela and Afghanistan. She has a background in social work, where she noticed the daily struggles of new arrivals to the United States, such as how most jobs available to immigrants don’t allow for social mobility.

“Come and show your support to our apprentices. Come and get to know them. Just as we try to get to know our regulars by name, get to know our apprentices by name and just ask how they’re doing. If they feel supported by our community, I think that’s a huge win for us.” –Nina Forsyth, Arboretum Coffee manager

“A common problem is that (immigrants) have to make a choice between working and making money or taking (English as a second language) classes or building relationships (that) could support them down the line, whether personally or professionally,” Norris said. 

A lack of affordable housing, public transportation and health care also poses barriers to immigrants within the Northern Colorado region.

Arboretum Coffee counters this problem by offering a yearlong apprenticeship program twice a year, in which four to five apprentices are trained in a three-phase program, learning barista skills and life skills, and are paired with a mentor in the community.

“We want them to have high skill in craft coffee,” shop manager Nina Forsyth said. “I would define craft coffee as a higher level of coffee than something like Starbucks.”

These skills include learning how to brew espresso, steam milk and create latte art. Later stages of the program delve into leadership development in the coffee industry and roasting techniques.

Additionally, the skills learned focus heavily on American hospitality and customer service lessons, which may be different from what apprentices experienced in their home countries.

“We want to help people understand what are the expectations that, No. 1, customers and, No. 2, employers have for other Americans (because) somebody that’s a foreigner is not going to know those specific kinds of expectations that are unsaid,” Forsyth said. 


Iryna Sushko, a Ukrainian refugee and apprentice at Arboretum Coffee, spoke about the differences she noticed between American and Ukrainian hospitality.

“I worked before in Ukraine,” Sushko said. “I worked in clothes. I was a manager and merchandiser. I know customer service, (but) this country is different. So when people want to buy coffee sometimes, I (will say), ‘How are you today?’ For me, it’s crazy because my country, (it is) only ‘hi’ (and) ‘bye.’”

Every detail of the cafe was built with the apprentices in mind, down to the items offered on the menu.

“A lot of the people who are going to be making these (menu items) are going to be our apprentices,” Forsyth said, as she created the menu herself. “I want to be able to teach them how to make healthy food in this country.”

The menu has traditional coffee drinks such as lattes, drips and pour-overs but also features unique items like energy bars, chai pudding and hummus platters, all of which are made in-house. 

All of the cafe’s other products are sourced locally through business with similar community-centered ideals. Their produce comes from Mountain Avenue Market in Old Town, and their pastries and baked goods come directly from La Creperie & French Bakery and The Bread Chic.

Above all else, a major theme of Arboretum Coffee is the sense of community it fosters, as teacher at the Immigrant and Refugee Center of Northern Colorado Abby Keeler explained. 

“Having strong motivations is really important in our lives, and a lot of that comes from connection,” Keeler said. “When you have a chance to be in an apprenticeship in a place like this, where you are connected not only with work routine but also community members, (it) gives you an opportunity to develop deeper relationships.”

Intimate interactions, like reconnecting with another person from one’s home country, happen often within the walls of Arboretum Coffee.

“This happened (recently) where a couple of Ukrainian women came in,” Forsyth said. “They were just so happy to interact with some other Ukrainians in their heart language.”

A term she uses instead of first language, Forsyth spoke about the unique definition of heart language.

“A lot of countries speak more than one language,” Forsyth said. “But what’s the language that they think? That they dream in? What’s the language that they would write a poem in? That’s their heart language.” 

The people involved in and within the walls of the coffee shop are even embedded into its unique name.

“An arboretum is a botanical garden devoted to trees,” Norris said. “(It’s a space) for people to come in and experience the beauty of those plants. To enjoy them, to discover new information, to rest — and that’s the hope for the apprenticeship program but through people.” 

There are multiple ways to get involved with the cafe and the people it serves. Volunteer opportunities and an application form are available on Arboretum Coffee’s website. Purchasing coffee also contributes to the business, as every dollar sold goes right back into the apprenticeship program.

“The best thing we can do to support is to use our financial privilege to support other people, and if that’s an establishment, choose to come here and use your money to support a place like this,” Keeler said. 

Even just a regular friendly face can work to boost immigrants and refugees’ sense of belonging in the community. 

“Come and show your support to our apprentices,” Forsyth said. “Come and get to know them. Just as we try to get to know our regulars by name, get to know our apprentices by name and just ask how they’re doing. If they feel supported by our community, I think that’s a huge win for us.”

Reach Katie Fisher at or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.

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    Mary OdenbaughApr 21, 2024 at 1:42 pm

    Nicely written! . Will stop there next time I’m in Ft.Collins.