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A cornerstone of hope and healing

J’s Place offers the community a place to gather and see what a relationship with Christ can be

Almost four years ago, a coffee shop opened in Jessamine County with the purpose of offering a place to call home for those who were searching for a way to stand for healing and hope in the name of Jesus.

Owned by Todd Johns and Gwen Riley, J’s Place was founded with the purpose of not only offering the community a place to gather, but a place where non-profits work together, where outreach and ministries could form and prosper, a place to give hope to those who are struggling with addiction and a place where people in the community could receive second-chance employment.

“We want everybody to feel welcome and not feel like, ‘I am not good enough to walk in here,’” Riley said. “People come in and say, ‘Who is J?’ Then we can say, ‘Let me tell you about J.’ We didn’t intend for that but it works well.”

Riley said God brought herself and Johns together for a higher purpose than either of them could see at the time. Launching in August 2014, J’s Place came to fruition after Riley became involved with the local Salvation Army and asked what some of the challenges were in the community.

“A friend of mine and I were doing a Bible study at the Salvation Army,” Riley said. “At the time we found out one of our public officials had a heart for the Salvation Army. We went to that person and asked what they thought the challenge was in our community because we saw a lot of hopelessness. He said drugs are a problem. We asked him, ‘What are we doing about it?’ and his words were, ‘We are building a new jail.’”

Riley said his comment weighed on her heart, and after a friend of hers asked what she would do to change the circumstances if failure was not an option, J’s Place was born.

“We started the renovation in March 2014,” Riley said. “I talked to people about a manager and didn’t feel anyone had the heart for what we were trying to do. I didn’t even know what we were trying to do, I just felt like God was saying, ‘Make a place for people to come.’”

A friend of Riley’s went to see Todd Johns at a speaking event after Riley cried on her shoulder about the issues she was facing. Johns, she said, talked about the fourth pillar being a kingdom market. He felt led to open a coffee house in Nicholasville, and actually told those he was speaking to he had found the building, but someone had already purchased it.

“That is how you know God is in it,” Riley said. “We talked to Todd and met on a Tuesday. He shared his vision and I started freaking out because God has had us this far apart but shared the same vision with us and through our mutual friend was able to bring us together.”

The team decided to pray about it and meet the following week. This happened for a few more weeks until they both agreed they should just go for it.

They knew it was God’s plan.

“We agreed that he (Johns) would be the general manager here for a year and transition out, getting the meat of the ministry, the meat of the Revival Ministries, taking the next steps to create the Men’s Recovery Group and the Next Generation opportunities. We were creating how the community would come together through the non-profits that are all a part of this,” Riley said.

Riley said J’s Place works to spotlight non-profits in the community, including The Jessamine County Homeless Coalition, All God’s Children, The Jessamine County Food Pantry, Revive and the Salvation Army. J’s Place offers a variety of ways for the non-profits to come together. One of the most popular is Community Nights.

“Community Nights are the chance for non-profits to speak about themselves,” Johns said. “Like a town hall, we are open late, we invite people in and we have samples. It is just a fun night for others to hear a voice.”

He said J’s Place also started a “Honk Movement,” helping to raise awareness for the non-profits in the community. During this time, one non-profit organization is spotlighted in J’s Place an entire week. On the weekend, for every honk that is made on Main Street during a set time, 10 cents will be donated to that organization. Ten percent of the proceeds from sales that day will also be given to the designated organization. 

Riley said Revive received 3,500 honks the last time it was featured in the “Honk Movement” The purpose is to be loud and vocal about issues the community is facing.

“We have a lot of issues, a lot of challenges and people do not want to talk about it,” Riley said. “They don’t want to talk about teen pregnancy. They don’t want to talk about addiction. Everyone wants to turn their head when they see someone that doesn’t have enough to eat, but what we want to do is say, ‘We know we are going to have these issues and the Bible tells us that we are going to have these issues forever. But what are we doing to combat this?’”

Johns said J’s Place was a catalyst for Revive Ministries focusing on the Christian community development under four key pillars: Revive Life House, Next Generation, Common Ground and Kingdom Market.

“It is about helping people fish,” Johns said. “Not just giving them fish, but teaching them how. For those that really want it, we have those four pillars. (We work) to empower local churches to bridge gaps and to live out their faith in the public and in the marketplace, volunteering at these great non-profits in the community.”

Another way J’s Place gives back to the community is by offering second-chance employment.

Johns said sometimes, after recovery, an individual might have so many strikes against them that a potential employer does not want to employ them. A big part of what J’s Place is about is offering those who are in recovery or have just gotten out a chance to work and gain their confidence back, in order to continue the change in their life.

“We have always through our history had people that have come through the recovery program and are on staff,” Riley said. “We currently have probably four that are in active recovery in a program or have come through a program on staff.”

Some of the events offered at J’s Place are Recovery Night every Sunday, Youth Nights periodically, Toddler Times on Tuesdays and other events throughout the year featuring some favorite popular characters for children.

Recently, children were able to stop by J’s Place on scheduled days and times to meet the characters of “Paw Patrol,” Elmo and even Anna and Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen.”

“There are not opportunities in Jessamine County to get out and do those kinds of things,” Riley said. “You have to go somewhere else. We (want to) create those opportunities to come down here and meet one of those characters.”

The owners said they want J’s Place to continue to be a place where people can come and see what a real relationship with Jesus Christ looks like.

“We want people to know this is a place they can come,” Riley said. “If they want to speak to someone, there is usually a pastor or a youth pastor or someone in here at all times who they can talk to. We want it to be that place where we can build a relationship with the community. We can be that kind of town hall place to go, and we want it to be a place families can make great memories with their kids on weekends.”

Johns agrees, saying there is a third space everyone needs. He wants to see J’s be that third space for those in the community.

“You have your home, you have your office and then you have what?” Johns said. “Well that is that third place in space where you can get away and connect — or unplug if you need to unplug.”

His wish, he said, is to see J’s Place be a beacon of light for the community, facilitating all of its needs.

“We really need local support. We need people to come in here,” Riley said. “Just be that special place that is ours and only ours in Nicholasville.”