- Associated Press - Sunday, June 4, 2017

HOPKINSVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Coffee Connection, a community gathering place in downtown Hopkinsville, has become known as a resource for individuals down on their luck or those looking for shelter during the day.

Through word of mouth, people passing through Hopkinsville know about Coffee Connection as a place where they can get information and take part in friendly conversation. The regulars sit in an incongruous circle at the front of the shop, chatting while they sip their free coffee, occasionally eating free doughnuts. Passersby visit the shop when the shelters close for the day. They know they will not be turned away, and that valuable information, like which businesses are hiring, can be learned at the shop.

Chip Jackson used to be one of the people who visited the shop when the Salvation Army homeless shelter closed for the day. It took him about a week before he became a full time volunteer. Now he practically runs the place.

“At this point, Coffee Connection couldn’t hardly function without Chip,” said owner Terri Henderson. “I can count on Chip to be here. I can count on Chip to take care of issues that are in his area of expertise. People look up to him.”

Jackson moved to Hopkinsville in 2014 to live with his son, who was stationed at Fort Campbell. He had worked as a truck driver for ten years, right out of high school, before going to culinary school at the L’Ecole Culinaire school in St. Louis.

“Cooking was my thing,” Jackson said.

He worked at several restaurants in O’Fallon, Illinois before a pain in his lower back and right shoulder became unbearable. When he moved to Hopkinsville, he underwent surgeries in his spine at Jennie Stuart Medical Center to reduce the pain, but the procedures only did so much.

“I’ve got to be up and down. I can’t stand for long, can’t sit for long,” Jackson said.

He attributes the stress-related injuries to the repeated chopping he did as a chef, and for the long hours of sitting he did as a truck driver.

“I worked through a lot of pain for a couple years, a lot of years,” he said.

Jackson has a history of drug addiction. He has been free of substance abuse for 10 years, but he said he did not want to risk becoming addicted again from the pain killer prescribed to him from the surgery. He took himself off the painkillers. Some pain persists.

“I live with about a six every day,” he said.

When Jackson’s son was deployed to Afghanistan in 2014, Jackson knew he had to make a change in his life.

“I couldn’t work, didn’t have no money coming in, didn’t have disability yet.”

He said he did not want to burden anyone else with supporting him, so he decided to stay at the Salvation Army shelter in Hopkinsville until his disability case worked through the court system.

“To talk myself into going there was really, was really hard,” he said. “I just put myself into the shelter.”

In the shelter, Jackson waited for updates on his disability case. The case progressed slowly, and Jackson started to despair.

“The whole time I was in the shelter, my depression kept getting worse and worse,” he said. I just couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel at all.”

But Coffee Connection did offer Jackson a positive outlet during his time at the shelter.

“It was just very strange to me when I first walked in there. Because I’ve never seen a place like that ever, anywhere in any city,” he said. “I couldn’t wait to get there any morning. I’d be the type, I would get up bright and early, jump in the shower before anybody did and everybody went to breakfast . as soon as I was done with my shower and dressed I was gone.”

Henderson, the owner of Coffee Connection said Jackson approached her early on about giving back to the coffee shop.

He started emptying trash cans and cleaning up around the building. Before long, he had received special access and hurried to the coffee shop each morning from the shelter.

“It felt good to be there,” he said, “but as soon as I left the building, as soon as I left the coffee shop and had to go back to the Salvation Army, it was just, it was a roller coaster. I’d be happy all day and by the time I locked up and night it was just like, ugh, gotta go back.”

After six months in the shelter, Jackson received disability compensation. He now has an apartment, but still volunteers at Coffee Connection almost every day that it is open. He said he likes helping the people that come in. The role, he says, has given him a new outlook on life.

“Things are starting to look good for me,” he said.


Information from: Kentucky New Era, https://www.kentuckynewera.com

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