The popular C21 program, featuring personal stories of faith, is set to spread to campuses nationwide.
Sitting pleasantly whitewashed and well-landscaped on 110 College Rd., the Heffernan House is as charming as any of the residence-turned-administrative buildings unassumingly lining the street. A step through the front door and up a flight of stairs reveals a hallway teeming with activity that hardly resembles the building’s sleepy exterior—computer screens glow, telephones ring, the catering for an upcoming meeting arrives. It is obvious that something stimulating is underway.
Surprisingly, this office is not the headquarters of a high-powered fundraising campaign or a makeshift trading floor. Instead, it is the main office space for Boston College’s popular Agape Latte program, which has recently assumed an atmosphere that closely resembles a startup with an ambitious goal in mind—expansion.
Even the language used in the office seems to resemble that of a rapidly growing enterprise.
“We have 10 schools set to launch, we’ve launched about 10 other schools, and we’re in talks with about 10 others,” said Elizabeth Campbell, a current fellow of BC’s Church in the 21st Century Center (C21) and BC ’14. Campbell, who is tasked with assisting in the expansion and promotion of the new Agape Latte franchise, said colleges such as Holy Cross, Babson, and the University of Dayton are among the program’s 30 partner schools.
Agape Latte is a popular program among BC students sponsored by C21 featuring stories of faith from individuals of all backgrounds, and with a little assistance from an anonymous donor, has decided to move beyond its campus of origin. Expanding to universities across the country, the growth of the Agape Latte brand in its early stages has been a success and begun to work itself toward a nationwide “franchised” brand, intending to facilitate discussions of faith among young people.
In many ways, the program’s success and growth at other schools resembles the positive reception it received in its initial days at BC, according to Karen Kiefer, associate director of BC’s Church in the 21st Century Center.
“Slowly but surely, the student board grew from 3 to 10 to 20 to 40 and now we’re at 68,” Kiefer said. “The program just really started to grow and a couple of years ago  we had an anonymous donor come forward and say, ‘This program has promise, so apply for a grant and we’d like to see if you can franchise Agape Latte in different universities nationally, but don’t just go to your Jesuit network. We want to see if you can start the conversation outside of BC.’”
With this, Agape Latte used its momentum on campus to network into unfamiliar territory and move beyond a community bounded by BC’s borders.
“We needed to take our time to figure out, ‘How do you do it?’” Kiefer said of the program’s first steps. “We’ve never franchised this before. How can we package it and have people understand it?”
With a little imagination and some creative marketing materials, however, Agape Latte began to build a substantial and highly individual brand and aesthetic intending to pass on a consistent set of values to wherever the franchise moved.
The importance of a consistent brand aesthetic between all of its members is a large concern with Agape Latte, as behind the aesthetic is the intention to sustain the essential values of the program, the conversation about and the intersection of faith and life.
“But, we encourage each university to embrace it, we say. Did it start at BC? Yes. Are we helping them out? Yes.”
“It has to be consistent—we’ve trademarked it, we’ve copyrighted it,” Kiefer said. “They have to use the right logo, the right typeface and they have to run everything by us. But, we encourage each university to embrace it, we say. Did it start at BC? Yes. Are we helping them out? Yes.”
Concerns regarding religious distance were also a factor to consider when expanding beyond Jesuit and Catholic universities. Those involved feel that the Catholic ideology behind the program helps to sustain a greater mission—to encourage an open discourse about faith and religion.
“Everyone has a need for conversation, and even non-Catholic and non-Jesuit schools see that need for that conversation,” said Campbell of the response of non-denominational schools. “Students want to have that conversation.”
The future of Agape Latte continues to be ambitious and, among expansion to even more schools in the US and internationally, includes building a network of stories through the creation of a Agape Latte video database.
“We encourage [other schools] to videotape their speakers just like we do, because we’re building a big video database in order to share each other’s stories,” Kiefer said. “So it’s like this big storytelling network—Agape Latte is faith TED Talks.”
Ultimately, there appears to be virtually no limit to the possibilities of this faith and conversation centered “startup.”
The goal, however, is simple: to take the social taboo out of faith and religious discourse, while inspiring the next generation to explore the power of religion.
“Our great hope is that it gets as many young people in our world talking about the relevance of God working in their lives,” Kiefer said. “We have big, big dreams for Agape.”
Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor