by Ali Burden
In a place where there’s no running water, a well is a gathering place, a place where the walls that divide people cease to exist and true togetherness, true community, can happen. Zac Kohl, Executive Director of Akron’s Community Development Corporation, The Well, believes this is happening in Akron in that sprawling brick behemoth on East Market—the church in which Kohl had grown up and come to love.
Kohl’s history in the Middlebury neighborhood of Akron fostered a fierce hometown pride, and just like any of us, he wanted the best for his neighborhood. Middlebury definitely struggles, and while Kohl hadn’t planned on starting a project, it became apparent that he could—and should—do something to rescue his community. Kohl began buying up and rehabbing homes on his street, and before long had taken his first steps into changing Middlebury forever.
Fast forward to the birth of The Well—Kohl pulled the trigger on snapping up his childhood church after the congregation relocated. Inspired by other Community Development Corporations he had seen in other cities, The Well was designed to be the vehicle by which economy, community and dignity are brought back to Middlebury, and the organization is doing so with marvelous grace.
The Well is home to seven wonderful partners and offers a number of community events. They have truly opened their doors to the Middlebury neighborhood and beyond.
Compass Coffee is a gorgeous, brand-new coffee shop on the ground floor of the building. Proceeds from this non-profit coffee shop are funneled into Kohl’s housing project. Upon walking inside, the scent of fresh coffee and the sound of clicking keyboards and gentle laughter fills the air. With smiling faces behind the unique counter and an open atmosphere, it’s easy to feel at home at Compass Coffee. They host everything from live music to community dinners, and they believe their space belongs to the people of Akron.
Even better, Compass Coffee also offers a unique pay-it-forward system, in which patrons can donate a dollar, and Compass Coffee covers the rest of the cost to provide a fresh cup of their amazing brew to someone in need. Not a bad trade if you ask us.
Oh and did we mention the full kitchen behind Compass Coffee, which can be used by local food entrepreneurs to prep and cook their wares? The Well has truly thought of everything when it comes to giving Akronites a leg-up.
The Well is also home to Rubber City Shakespeare Company, which has a number of classics coming down the pike for the people of Akron to enjoy (next up is King Lear, which runs from June 2 through June 18. Visit rubbercityshakes.com/tickets for tickets). It also houses Rahab Ministries, which provides services to exploited and broken women and girls, and World Relief, which serves and offers aid to refugees arriving in Akron. Other partners include Asia Services in Action, Citizens Akron and Rooted Akron.
The Well will also host a summer farmer’s market starting June 3. The farmer’s market runs every Wednesday from 3 pm to 6 pm and Saturdays 9 am to 1 pm, so bring your canvas bags and get your hands on the goods.
There are things that we, as Akronites, The Devil Strip readers and neighbors, can do to further The Well’s reach and support their cause.
“It’s simple things…simple ways that people can help,” Kohl says. “Just come engage. Rubber City Shakespeare does shows, then there’s the farmer’s market starting in June, community dinners…Come have a cup of coffee, come in and be a neighbor. We’re just trying to build an energy and trying to bring people together.”
I asked Kohl what he felt about the direction in which Akron seems to be heading, and what he thought about doing it “the hard way on purpose.”
“There are some real obstacles in Akron, for sure,” Kohl says. But at the same time, there’s a breath of fresh air in Akron right now, and I think people are excited. People have the power to stay in their hometown and make it their own, and to me, that’s awesome.”
So let’s get out there, Devil Strip fanatics—stop by The Well, check it out, stay awhile, make a friend, and do some good in the process.