Gloria Galindo always wanted to open a coffee shop. “I still want to do that,” she says, “sell coffee and teas from around the world.” For now, she is sharing coffee and tea—and food—in a less entrepreneurial fashion.

As part of TPL’s Community Outreach with Resident Experts (CORE) program in Greeley, Colorado, Galindo’s role is to engage with residents who live near the city’s Delta Park as they envision what they’d like their neighborhood green space to be. Galindo (second from right, above) has worked with the quickly growing city’s Somali and Latinx immigrant populations in various capacities for over 20 years, so the job is a natural fit. “This is totally my cup of tea,” she says in all earnestness.

One of her first tasks with TPL was to conduct a survey with residents about the park, but she felt the survey itself needed community input. So she proposed what she knew would bring people together: food and drink. And the Coffee Chat Group was formed. “When you go to someone’s house, what do they do?” she asks. “They offer you something to drink.”

Initial members were recruited at a community event, where Galindo and other residents asked interested parties to sign up, but it’s spread by word of mouth since. Now, on Friday afternoons, Galindo hosts roughly a dozen community members at picnic tables in Delta Park or, if the weather is less friendly, at communal spaces in nearby apartment complexes.

The group’s efforts so far have included planning park outreach events and engagement activities to gather resident input and ideas for the park and to celebrate the neighborhood’s cultural identity through food, sports, art, and music. Galindo—who, ironically, is not a big coffee drinker herself—takes inspiration from something a pastor once told her, that coffee beans transform from the inside out. “So your power is inside of you,” she explains, adding that she wants to help Greeley residents “be the coffee bean.”

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And she’s seeing it happen, noting that community members who might be intimidated by formal interviews open up at a table together. Attendees are “really becoming empowered and using their voices,” she says. “I’ve never believed that you empower anybody. You give them the tools, and they become empowered themselves.”

For residents who live near Delta Park, the tool is conversation—which caffeine doesn’t hurt. One drink they regularly share is shaah: similar to chai, it’s flavored with ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves and served during casariya, a traditional Somali afternoon tea.

Drinking shaah and eating malawah, thin Somali pancakes that the group likes to spread with Nutella, naturally leads to talk of home. It’s not uncommon for a chat group member, many of whom are refugees, to pull out their phone and show photos of an open space back in Ethiopia, for instance, or for a Mexican immigrant to recall the beautiful gazebo at the center of the public park in their hometown.


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A man riding a bike through a flower show.


Phil Dube, a TPL senior project associate and Generation Now cohort member, shares a relevant proverb from his home country of Zimbabwe: “Relationships are hardly complete until you’ve shared a meal together,” he says. Following that lead, he worked with Feel Good Portland and Norumbega Cidery on an all-day festival in New Gloucester, Maine, celebrating local food, drink, and music that raised funds in support of our ongoing effort to protect 193 acres at Talking Brook Public Land, a nearby natural area.

Along with public art installations, our Heat Response program in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, deployed a “Popcycle” (left) to help raise awareness around extreme heat and environmental justice. The mobile popsicle stand visited three of Philly’s most affected communities, offering cool treats and engaging residents in conversation. (Popsicles were provided by Philabundance, a local nonprofit that works to alleviate hunger.)


Trust for Public Land’s design team occasionally joins the group and asks more in-depth questions, wondering what kind of material the gazebo should be made of and what type of entertainment it should host. In this way, sharing food and drink is generating a way for refugees and immigrants to work toward creating a home away from home through their public outdoor spaces.

Initially, residents didn’t even know Delta Park was public due to a confusingly placed fence and the park’s proximity to an apartment complex. Now they’re taking ownership, says Galindo. The attitude is, “This is our neighborhood; this is going to be our park.” But, Galindo observes, “It’s not just about a park. It’s really about building community.”

“I’ve never believed that you empower anybody. You give them the tools, and they become empowered themselves.”

– Gloria Galindo, TPL Delta Park coordinator in Greeley, Colorado

Antonnio Benton, TPL Parks for People project manager in Colorado, explains that the City of Greeley tried to engage the community around the same green space prior to TPL’s involvement but failed. “None of the work that we’ve been able to do at Delta Park would have happened without the Coffee Chat Group,” he says.

Yesenia Garcia, a Mexican immigrant and college student at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, is a part-time resident expert working with Galindo to engage residents in planning Delta Park. She’s also helping with an upcoming, nearly 1,000-acre natural area on the other side of the city, about 25 minutes from Delta Park. When Galindo talks about Garcia, she sounds like a proud parent, which fits her nickname in the community: “They call me Mama Gloria,” she says.

Like a good mother, she ends our conversation with a nurturing touch, warmly extending an invitation to Greeley to share food, drink, and—more importantly—ideas.

Amy McCullough is senior writer and editor for Trust for Public Land and managing editor of Land&People magazine. She is also the author of The Box Wine Sailors, an adventure memoir.


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