Café Momentum has been propelling teenagers to a better life since Chad Houser started the non-profit a few years ago.
“Café Momentum started out as a series of pop up dinners until we opened our own brick and mortar location in January of 2015,” said Margaret Windham, chief operating and developing officer. “So, we have operated as a 12-month internship program for five years now.”
The internship is a paid, post-release internship program for young men and women coming out of juvenile facilities. The teens are rotated through all aspects of the restaurant, focusing on life and social skills, while being coached and developed by the adults running the program.
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To date, the cafe has worked with more than 750 young men and women, not only teach them work skills through the café but also to teach them life skills with the support and care they may not be getting at home.
Now, they can add helping kids graduate to their growing success stories.
"Part of the requirement to be in our internship program is to be enrolled back in high school and be working towards your high school diploma or your GED. That's challenging for a lot of our kids because they have been either kicked out of their home school or some of the alternative schools. All because there is a transportation barrier,” Windham said. "Offering a home school opportunity has always been one of our goals and looking for the right person to fulfill that goal and once we found Ms. Merry. It just seemed like it all started to move really fast."
Bernice Woodson and Zakeith Jones are the first graduates of Café Momentum’s home school program that was started in 2019. It’s a feat both of them thought might never be possible.
“I was actually skipping school and selling drugs,” Woodson said. “I was just a young teenager trying to make ends meet and trying to help my mom out.”
He found Café Momentum when he was ready to turn his life around. It was in the classroom that he also found Ms. Merry Watson.
“It was always in them,” Watson said. “And that’s one of the things I would tell them. It’s in you. You got this.”
Woodson and Jones both credit their graduating success to Watson, who they said encouraged and empowered them along the way.
Watson said she is just doing what the Lord has called her to do. Helping with some kids, who just need a second chance and someone to believe in them.
“Just to know that someone is here that cares about me and cares about me being successful,” Woodson said. “It’s an amazing thing to have someone truly in your corner, fighting for you.”
“There’s a lot of people here who want to see you be great,” Jones said. “ They want to see you be successful.”
Life lessons don’t usually come in a textbook. Watson said this is about much more than just graduating for the 20 kids currently enrolled in the accredited program.
“I just give it all to God and just pray that they go further because I stay on them. They just can’t graduate and say that’s it. It begins with a high school diploma. It doesn’t end there,” Watson said.
Café Momentum is a past recipient of one of the Project Innovation grants presented by the Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation in partnership with NBC and Telemundo stations in 11 markets. Project Innovation is strengthening our communities by providing funding to local non-profit organizations that are solving everyday problems.
This year, NBC 5 and Telemundo 39 will award $225,000 to exceptional non-profit programs that are addressing local community issues in an innovative way. The deadline to apply is Friday, Feb. 14.