The teen-focused SLP Nest has not reopened its coffee shop during the COVID-19 pandemic but is continuing to interact with students online and outdoors.
The SLP Nest, 3416 Library Lane in St. Louis Park, moved away from its slogan as “Park’s Youngest Coffee Shop” and is dubbing itself the “Creative Lab & Lounge” as the organization refocuses on youth arts and creativity.
“We’ve loved serving this community as ‘Park’s Youngest Coffee Shop,’” Programming Coordinator Symone Wilson said in a statement. “But we realized something was missing. Turns out, our emphasis on coffee shop operations was pulling time and attention away from our mission to provide a welcoming, youth-centered, and creative environment that builds community and life skills.”
A newsletter from the organization explained, “We’re busy creating new ways to use the arts, social media and virtual technology to connect and foster community throughout this challenging time. This is a new kind of ‘space’ for us. As we rise to this challenge, some of our activities will be experimental, but we’re confident in our success – after all, youth are savvy, even expert, at operating in virtual spaces.”
The SLP Nest has offered such activities as “Rockin’ Reconcile: Pizza and Conversation on Race” earlier this month in front of the building with Wilson and Lead Coordinator Patricia Womack. The event “Tie Dye and Rock Painting” is planned 3-5 p.m. Thursday, July 23.
Wilson, who joined the SLP Nest last year, will host the monthly online music and social hour “Summer Mixtape” 3-4 p.m. Saturday, July 25. Wilson, who performs electronic pop locally under the name SYM1, deejays for the event with some of the music chosen by students. She interacts with students about topics like health, dating during COVID or topics provided through the Better World Museum, a “cross-platform museum” that provides community activities using technology.
In “Students of SLP” videos, released every other Wednesday, Wilson interviews students via Zoom about their artwork and how they’re feeling about life in general.
Other activities in the works relate to hip hop, instrumental music, dance, theater, stand-up comedy, spoken word, film, fine arts and crafts, according to the nonprofit’s statement.
The SLP Nest sponsored a contest to design a St. Louis Park 2020 T-shirt, with the winning design created by St. Louis Park High School student Jaida Puentes, 15. The design includes a globe, a camera, theater masks, a beaker, a crown, a football, a basketball and the letters “SLP” for St. Louis Park, a description notes.
“My goal for this design was to add something for every person to appreciate,” Puentes said in the SLP Nest newsletter. “Each character and object is significant to people in our community.”
Puentes, who posts her art @jaida.p.artz on Instagram, said, “I didn’t realize I had a talent until people started noticing my art and wanted to purchase it.”
Her style developed after learning about doodle art at the age of 12, according to the SLP Nest newsletter.
“After a year of practicing one of my teachers (was) very interested in my art and wanted to buy a piece from me,” Puentes said. “That’s when I knew I could do something with art. More and more people started to love what I did and gave me a lot of support.”
She also explored other types of art, such as graphic design.
“I am still continuing my journey in art and exploring new things,” said Puentes, who participated in a “Students of SLP” interview.
All 100 of the SLP Nest T-shirts that used Puentes’ design have been given away to students.
While SLP Nest’s doors are closed to the public, upgrades to the building and its grounds are also underway. St. Louis Park is paving the back alley and providing a matching grant for a brick patio, awnings and other outdoor upgrades.
Inside, the SLP Nest is gaining new paint colors, new sound equipment, funky furniture and an updated menu. The indoor walls will change from teal and orange to gray and white with neon pops of color, such as large circles.
“It’s just going to be a lot more expressive, weird and almost, like, museumesque ... but the only difference being that you can touch anything you want within the space as long as you wash your hands first, because of COVID still,” Wilson said in an interview.
The online events have attracted students from other schools, she noted.
“There’s a silver lining to it that now students are more heavily being engaged, especially since like there’s not really much to do during this summer,” Wilson said. “We’re still a space where students can show off their works.”
With events that have occurred in person, Wilson said organizers implement social distancing measures, with participants 6 feet apart, and use gloves and masks.
“It’s just there is something missing with that human interaction,” Wilson said. “The students are going to get together anyway, so if we can get them together in a safer way, we’d love to do that.”
SLP Nest plans to follow the St. Louis Park School District’s lead in reopening.
“If students are there, we want to provide a safe space for them, provide a space that welcomes them and then also make sure that they are engaging safely,” Wilson said.
She expressed enthusiasm for her role.
“The moment that I saw that the Nest was coming into existence, I was like, whoa, this is totally something that I want to be a part of, that I want to support, because I wish I had something like this when I was a student going to St. Louis Park,” Wilson said. “Having a space where students can feel like they can discover, explore, mess up, get better, or do none of that and just watch or just interact with each other I think is really cool, and I want to help create that the best way that I possibly can.”
To learn more, visit slpnest.org/summer2020.