Homecoming weekend brought students back to Emporia State University to reminisce and reconnect.
At the Inner Bean, a coffeehouse located at 1328 Exchange Street, alumni gathered to honor 20 years of faith, fellowship and caffeine.
Tom and Bev Rees founded the Inner Bean in fall 1999, after identifying a need for students to have a place to hang out that was “safe and welcoming.”
“At the time, the only places for students to hang out was bowling, bars and frat parties,” Tom Rees said. “We wanted to provide an alternative that was inexpensive and where students didn’t feel rushed to leave like they might at a restaurant.”
It took a year of searching for the perfect house, then a summer of volunteers pitching in to prepare the space. When The Inner Bean opened in 1999, students were invited to enjoy “good music, good coffee, good company and good conversation,” Rees said.
Sponsored in part by Flint Hills Bible Church, where Rees was an assistant pastor, the Inner Bean relied on volunteers and donations. Coffee and baked goods — prepared and donated by 40 women in the community — came with a suggested donation, but the Reeses wanted all students to feel like they could come hang out, even if they were on a limited budget.
The student organization Xenos was founded to be the service arm of the Inner Bean.
“Xenos is a Greek word that means ‘one who treats a stranger hospitably,’” Rees said. “We envisioned the Inner Bean to be a place for other groups to come, too.”
Miles Shirk came to ESU in 2005, and soon began hanging out at the Inner Bean after Christian Challenge meetings on Thursday nights.
“I liked that it was a place to build deeper relationships that were centered around our relationship with Christ,” he said.
Soon, he began volunteering as a barista and taking on additional responsibilities. When the Reeses moved to Missouri in 2008, Shirk took over running the coffeehouse. It was a time of growth and defining the mission of the organization.
“We had to bolster leadership from within our student ranks,” Shirk said. “We were defining who we were as a ministry.”
During this time, the Inner Bean came under the umbrella of Flint Hills Bible Church and became the official college ministry outreach for the church.
“It was a time of reconnection and reinvigoration,” Shirk said. “We wanted to make sure Christ was at the center of everything we were doing.”
As Shirk’s personal and professional responsibilities grew, he decided to step back from volunteering.
In 2015, Alvin Colstron became the first full-time, paid director of the Inner Bean as part of his role as senior ministries pastor at Flint Hills Bible Church.
Colstron said one of his goals is to differentiate the Inner Bean as “distinctively evangelical.” He is also committed to supporting and equipping members of Xenos and those who volunteer at Inner Bean.
“I want to support and care for those with a passion for this community pastorally,” he said. “It’s easy to burn out when you’re giving of your time and energy. I want to make sure our volunteers are able to keep doing what they’re doing, to encourage them and make sure they’re spiritually fed.”
In addition to beverages and snacks, the Inner Bean has regular live music, game nights, guest speakers and offers places for groups to meet or students to study.
The Inner Bean is located at 1328 Exchange Street. During the school year, hours are 2 — 10 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays and 2 — 8 p.m. Thursdays. Special events are scheduled every Friday night.
For more information about the Inner Bean, visit facebook.com/TheInnerBean.