Student’s work to pay dividends for Paradiso Coffee

PATRICIA HANNAFORD CAREER Center student Parker Chester shows her winning design for a new Paradiso Coffee bag with Steve Colangeli, owner of Paradiso. Career Center student competed to create the packaging for coffee beans from the East African nation of Burundi.

It was really cool to actually get to work with a client, and see the process that most designers have to go through — and the active ‘working together’ between designers and clients to create something you both enjoy and want to see go out there.
— student designer Parker Chester

MIDDLEBURY — It’s 7,025 miles from Middlebury to Burundi in East Africa. And one could argue the economic gulf between the two areas is even wider still.
Well, two local educators and a Charlotte-based business recently made an effort to bridge that gap in at least a small way, through a scholastic competition that helped participating Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center students learn about the geography, culture and natural resources of Burundi, and financial hardships that its citizens endure on a daily basis.
The assignment not only enlightened the students, it will also contribute to higher wages for a group of coffee farmers in Burundi who have historically worked backbreaking hours in the searing heat with little to show for their efforts.
And one of the participating career center students — Parker Chester of New Haven — will know she played a special part in rewarding those farmers. Her original design will appear on a new Paradiso Coffee bag that will contain Burundi-sourced coffee. Those bags will soon be found at stores throughout the area — including the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op. Paradiso — co-owned by Middlebury Union High School science teacher Steve Colangeli — will sell that Burundi coffee at a premium, as part of the Long Miles Coffee Project that pays farmers a living wage for their beans.
Lisa Rader, who leads the Hannaford Career Center’s Visual Communications, Design & Illustration class, coached her 20 students through the design process. She embraced the idea of a design competition pitched by Colangeli and his partner, Dovie Hunt. After all, Rader’s students have had a history of lending their talents to local businesses and nonprofits. They’ve done design work through the years for organizations like End of Life Services and Habitat for Humanity of Addison County. These collaborations present opportunities for friendly competition among budding artists, and a chance to get real-world experience taking a promotional concept from drawing to polished product.
“We were really attracted to the fact that this had such a social component to it,” Rader said. “We believe in design for the greater good; we’re always working in and for our community here. And the community just got a little bigger — all the way to Burundi, I guess.”
Students got the assignment around a month ago and immediately began researching Paradiso, Burundi and the Long Miles Coffee Project. This knowledge helped inform their designs. The students then met with Colangeli and presented him with a “mood board,” a rough draft that gives the client a glimpse of where the design is headed. Colangeli gave the students pointers on how they might better tailor their concepts to the message Paradiso was seeking to impart to customers.
Colangeli said the students “asked some great questions,” but he refrained from emphasizing his vision for the design, in order to give them free reign to be creative.
“We wanted to tell the story,” Colangeli said of the Long Miles Coffee Project. Created by Ben and Kristy Carlson, the Long Miles Coffee Project has helped farmers in Burundi improve the quality of their coffee by setting up washing stations. The project has been committed to paying the farmers higher wages.
Students refined their designs and then met again with Colangeli and Hunt for another review. The Paradiso owners liked what they saw, and narrowed the field down to four finalists. They placed those designs on Paradiso’s Instagram account, where viewers were invited to vote on their preferred option.
Ultimately, Colangeli and Hunt selected Chester’s as their top choice. Her design features a path leading through the rolling hills of a rural Burundi setting. A person, a basket balanced atop their head, is shown at the beginning of the path in the distant background. An orange and crimson sky provides a colorful backdrop.
“It drew me in,” Colangeli said of the winning design. “We wanted something with a positive feel, that was uplifting.”
It was a fun project for Chester, a 17-year-old junior.
“It was really cool to actually get to work with a client, and see the process that most designers have to go through — and the active ‘working together’ between designers and clients to create something you both enjoy and want to see go out there,” Chester said.
Though she passed the Paradiso assignment with flying colors, Chester isn’t a coffee drinker and she isn’t contemplating a career in graphic design. She wants to pursue work in criminal justice.
“It was really cool to get the recognition,” Chester said. “I had high hopes for winning, but I definitely had great competition from my classmates.”
The new Paradiso Burundi coffee is scheduled to hit the shelves early this spring. The estimated cost per bag: $17, which reflects the premium to help farmers.
Rader is pleased with the outcome of the assignment.
“This project hits all of the things in the curriculum we would hope,” Rader said. “It also gives students a real experience. It’s not easy, and we don’t want to protect students from real life; we want them to see what life is like for a designer. I don’t think there would have been a better project, and I honestly don’t think we could have had a better client.
“It’s professional work,” she added of the students’ creations. “To have that many professional looking designs come out of this process, I couldn’t have asked for more.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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