Joya.jpg
People are glad you’re here, brain injury or no.

Joya Iverson was driving through a blizzard on the Mt. Baker highway. The powder was going to be amazing! Knowing her good friends were waiting on the mountain made the trip even sweeter. It was an awesome opportunity to see them. In 3 days she’d be flying to Ethiopia on a one way ticket. This would be her biggest trip yet in an epic career she’d designed deliberately so she could work and travel at the same time. So far she’d lived in Turkey, Ethiopia and Indonesia, up to two months at a time, for the past 4 years. This time she’d be going for over a year.

An SUV coming down the narrow, windy slippery Mt. Baker Highway at 60mph lost control and struck Joya’s car head on. Fortunately she swerved, and lived – but the injury to her brain and PTSD from the accident made for a long, hard recovery. No longer able to use the part of her brain that provided data analysis, Joya lost her job. Severe headaches, complete sensitivity to light and a general inability to focus her attention meant she needed serious help. At first, she was unable to perform basic tasks like choosing a loaf of bread at the store or concentrating long enough to brush her teeth. Fortunately she found a fabulous brain injury counselor who helped her re-learn to focus her attention and trained her in techniques to help her while her brain healed.

Joya knew she needed to put an income together. Medical bills and loss of work had drained her savings. It took a long time to decide what she could do. The idea of starting a coffee roasting company stuck. So with 2 1/2 hours a day of energy Joya decided she'd better get started. Living in Seattle’s Rainier Valley, she knew the drive through, boarded up neighborhood of Hillman City pretty well. It was a neighborhood, in her estimation, that just needed a ‘little bit of coffee’ to rebuild it into a wonderful community. Joya picked out an old corner building with blown out windows and a trashed interior. It was a known gambling den. What Joya saw was a beautiful old building in need of some love and attention, and hopefully an opportunity for the rest of the boarded up buildings (3 out of 4 storefronts) to transform also. Joya knew it was the perfect place for her coffee roasting company.

The decision to revive that space struck a chord with her community. They wanted Joya's coffee house to be their meeting place –and provide the quality of life their community seriously lacked. When Joya started a Kickstarter Campaign, the community came together in strength - and then the Kickstarter Failed! The community came to her defiant: “We will have our coffee house!”, they insisted. Everyone kept their money pledged to the coffee house. Joya sensed opportunity. Her favorite self-description: “The Marketer Lives!” pulled her forward into the next phase of building her new coffee house. Joya sent the message to the media: "Our Kickstarter failed and we’re doing this anyway!" The media loved it. And the word got out! Enough money was raised on Indiegogo to clean up the building and purchase basic equipment to roast coffee and make amazing latte's. A swat team was sent in to close down the gambling den. And the smashed up storefront was rebuilt into a comfortable meeting place. The community strongly came together for this effort - because it wasn't for the feint of heart. They took total ownership! Whenever anyone tagged the property, Joya painted it out and added more pots of flowers. It worked. People respected the property.

Joya’s coffee shop is called Tim Umbrella Coffee. When asked about the name she told one reporter in 2013: “To me, it reflects simplicity and a shelter for good things. When traveling I would find myself in these corrugated tin roof shelters. And I loved the sound of rain on the roofs. It's kind of Seattle, kind of global: We provide comfort and shelter. It fits.”

Joya’s accident happened in February of 2012. In August of 2014 Tin Umbrella Coffee celebrated its one year anniversary! Joya was working long days again (although her doctors and employees all insisted she relax, sleep and care for her still recovering brain!) Her shop is nearly ready to pay her for the first time. The infectious energy to rebuild the neighborhood has taken off. A Peruvian chicken restaurant opened across the street in September 2014, a furniture store moved in May 2014 and a pet supply store will be opening soon. This neighborhood is said to be the most diverse zip code in the country. (98118)

Joya is treasured by all for her insight. It is not uncommon for her to speak many languages in a single day as immigrants from Indonesia, Turkey and Ethiopia come to
Tin Umbrella Coffee. She is receiving awards for her Entrepreneurial skills and vision. Joya continues to take care of herself and her community. Her spirit and dedication helped heal an entire neighborhood and deepen the strength of the community.