After Redamtè barista Aleesha Halbach combines the creamy, gold espresso with foamy, steamed milk, she swirls the mixture to create a delicious, caffeinated drink for her awaiting customer. While some baristas would claim the latte is a work of art, Halbach claims the latte is her personal outreach to a local community.
Halbach, 20, is a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the legal studies program, but she also studies Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) and educational policy. At the Redamtè Coffee House on State Street, Halbach creates a welcoming coffee shop environment as a barista, to help Redamtè raise awareness of international aid efforts, such as Haiti relief.
“I was just looking for another way to get involved, especially this semester, because I want to get my hands kind of in everything,” said Halbach.
Now living in Madison, Halbach considered her hometown Fond du Lac a small community because her Catholic high school football games were the town’s biggest concern. But as she moved to a campus of about 40,000 students, Halbach was exposed to many diverse social concerns.
Halbach’s interest in social justice grew after she took a transgender history class in 2012 as a sophomore. The class discussed how language affects people in a community and when the semester ended, Halbach wanted to continue her involvement in communities with social issues.
“I think once you plant the seed, you just see the world differently,” said Halbach.
Halbach heard about Redamtè from a close friend during her freshman year in 2011 and in the fall of 2013, she decided to serve coffee, sweep, or even mop, for six to eight hours a week, for free.
According to Halbach, she also works as a paid barista at Crossroads Café and has a paid internship at Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement, but her volunteer work is more rewarding. As a volunteer barista, Halbach stays involved in the local Madison community and is connected to other international communities because of Redamtè’s mission.
Redamtè café is a nonprofit organization that hosts small, live concerts and educational talks about social issues, in a coffee shop. Their mission is to draw attention to international crises.
“My kind of good-doing is spreading the word and bringing people in, but also when they are here, to keep bringing them back,” said Halbach.
Although steaming milk and mixing flavored syrups in coffee is not direct experience with an international crisis, Halbach believes that by creating a community and starting relationships with the regular customers in the cafe, the barista can help promote healthy discussion on difficult societal topics.
“It kind of empowers us to be better café workers, even though it might sound kind of miniscule,” she said.
Halbach even developed a relationship with one of her UW-Madison English classmates who came to Redamte for a cup of coffee, but then left engaged in Redamtè’s mission because of Halbach’s welcome and insight.
According to Halbach’s co-worker and floor volunteer Andrea Beres, Halbach frequently creates these relationships with her customers and usually does so with just a friendly smile.
“Each time I have worked with Aleesha, I can imagine the shift full of laughter, teamwork and conversation,” said Beres.
According to Redamtè events Intern Jon McHugh, coffee brings people together, whether it is to study or share ideas. And baristas like Halbach create these comfortable environments by serving coffee but participating in the social environment as well.
“You always learn things when you meet new people so I think that’s a large portion of what I take away from here,” said Halbach.