Labor of love: growing coffee and cultivating a community

What is the secret behind a successful charitable organization? For Café de Kuna, it’s a whole lot of compassion and a little bit of coffee.

The organization has raise $9,143 in donations as of Tuesday night and is continuing to bring in donations. Leaders and members of the organization say they are stunned at how far they’ve come.

“We’re really proud to be a student-run initiative,” co-founder and Project Coordinator Ivanna Stefanyshyn said.

Café de Kuna is a student-led initiative that raises money to support the crops and exportation of coffee by the Wacuco Kuna community in the Darien Region of Panama.

The business started after a group of Oakland University students, part of Global Business Brigades, went to Darien in August 2013 to “lead multiple interactive business related workshops with the community’s savings and loan cooperative member,” according to Café de Kuna’s website.

A fundraising event was held at the Rochester Mills Beer Co. March 13, during which flyers were provided to customers that could be presented to servers for 20% of the net profit to be given to the cause. Stand-up comedy and musical performances also took place during the event.

Stefanyshyn said the initiative was created mostly through the bond the students had with the community.

“We had a great bond with the community,” Stefanyshyn said. “We wanted to continue it.”

Stefannyshym said community members expressed that the growing and selling of coffee was their main source of income but that it wasn’t doing well. She said that the community has the land, but not the money or resources to properly cultivate the land for coffee.

She said that their mission is greater than just raising money for the Wacuco Kuna community.

“Providing sustainability in the community itself,” Stefanyshyn said, along with “secure income and environment.”

Stefanyshyn said she was very impressed with the attitudes and work ethic of community members.

“They really want to improve,” Stefanyshyn said.

Senior Katie Bales handled the social media for the initiative.

Bales said her job was to try to get their message out on sites like Facebook and Twitter, and “trying to get enough likes to become a hot trend.”

She said that in order for events like the Rochester Mills Beer Co. one to be successful, it has to be seen on the web.

“When we have an advertising event like this you want everyone to see it,” Bales said.

After the original trip in August 2013, several students expressed the want to continue efforts with the Wacuco Kuna community. A class was created for the Fall 2013 semester in which students could stay in contact with the community and help them with their business practices.

The class was taught by the original faculty advisor to the trip, professor of management and winner of the 2014 Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year award, Mark Simon.

“We can help them even more by developing a longer term relationship,” Simon said. “As the class was going on a real company was being born.”

Simon said one of the goals in the class was creating a more stable method of communication with the community. Members of the class went back to Panama in October to address this and several other issues.

Developing “ways of communicating on a regular basis” was essential, according to Simon.

Simon also said the community was in need of experts to hold double production of coffee, lining up more local contacts, and obtaining a greenhouse for the coffee.

Simon noted that the Café de Kuna is not a separate legal entity thanks to Oakland University’s School of Business program (i2B).

According to the program’s page on, i2B is there to “assist students and faculty member in launching new business ventures, including business plan development and presentation, and, where approved, support for commercialization through an established partnership with one of the OU Incubators.”

The other part of the class focused on how they could raise money for the village, Simon said.

A series of fundraising events was created as well as a crowd-funding campaign in which the goal is to raise $30,000 in 30 days during March. Those interested can go to and donate any amount of money.

Simon said the experience has been incredible and he’s loved seeing what his students can do.

“You can achieve whatever you set your mind to,” Simon said. “I’m utterly convinced they will raise $30,000 in 30 days.”

He also said that the drive of these students is what made this whole initiative possible.

“Without their motivation it would not have been possible,” Simon said. “They learned to take on the impossible and do it.”

The Café de Kuna’s Grand Finale event is Friday, March 28 at 5:00 p.m. in the Stinson Center in Elliot Hall. Tickets can be purchased for a chance to win a reserved parking spot anywhere on campus.

You can donate to Café de Kuna at

Visit them at their website: