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A second chance at Curt's Cafe

Jun 05, 2012

from the article by Susan Du in The Daily Northwestern:

Curt’s Cafe, 2922 Central St., is an unlikely crossroads for the two: Trieschmann hires at-risk young adults, particularly those with criminal records, providing them with hard-to-find job training and work experience. The non-profit restaurant is one of the only adult ex-offender re-entry programs in a city that focuses most of its re-entry resources on at-risk youths.

Trieschmann said the road to opening the experimental business was far from smooth, with some neighbors concerned about the business drawing former criminals to Central Street. Still, it’s an experiment that restorative justice advocates and even Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said is worth a shot.

“I’ve learned that our children have really hard lives, and I’ve learned that we don’t handle it very well and that no child should have to go through what these kids go through,” Trieschmann said with tears in her eyes. “And I don’t know why it is. I don’t know if it’s the parents or the community, but their lives are not fair. I can only speak for myself, but I’m glad I stepped up when I did.”

....Curt’s Cafe employs five to six young adults at a time for three-month training programs. Employees work eight-hour shifts, which include an hour of independent study and a daily circle in which they sit together and revisit their personal development and re-entry experience.

Trieschmann said in addition to making the personal transition from a for-profit to nonprofit mindset, she faced challenges of training at-risk students and warming up her Central Street neighbors to the idea of a restorative justice restaurant.

“(The community) has embraced us great,” Trieschmann said of most customers who drop in. “They’ve been really warm, and for never having advertised, having people come in is pretty good.”

However, she said when Curt’s Cafe was first proposed, she received some reports that a neighborhood group was concerned about the restaurant’s concentration of ex-offenders. Only after meeting with Evanston police was Trieschmann able to explain her ambitions for the cafe and settle neighbors’ qualms.

After three weeks in business, Curt’s Cafe’s story has attracted a faithful clientele that swarms the counter during lunch hour. The students, who were trained on the spot since day one, have mastered the menu. The improvement has been significant, considering employees still struggled to make coffee at the end of the first week and were often late for work, Trieschmann said.

....Pattillo said the list of things ex-offenders need to successfully reintegrate into society is extensive, and the re-entry process is made increasingly difficult when ex-offenders in many parts of the country are ineligible to live in public housing, receive many public sector benefits or cast votes. Coupled with the stigma associated with having a criminal record, it can be difficult for ex-offenders to get jobs and become financially independent, she said.

“Those various forms of exclusion make it very difficult for people to get back on their feet,” Pattillo said. “These are places that we need to make headway in actually reintegrating people rather than continuing their exclusion and stigma.”

Read the whole article.

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