Through Cookies, This Cafe is Helping Teens Find Better Futures
We always knew cookies made the world a better place, but one New York coffee shop is taking it further. At Reconnect Café, local teens have a welcoming place to shape their futures. As part of larger non-profit, Reconnect Brooklyn, the cafe operates like any other except, that while baking, making coffee, and serving customers, staff are also learning about job training, entrepreneurship skills, and the importance of staying in school.
All of Reconnect Brooklyn's businesses -- a cafe, bakery, graphics studio, and apparel shop -- are based in Bedford-Stuyvesant where 33% of the residents live in poverty and nearly half of the children live under the poverty line.
"For many of these young men, we provide their first jobs," says Reconnect co-founder, local priest, and Bed-Stuy resident, Father Jim O'Shea. The program focuses on helping men ages 17-24 who are often most at risk. "This neighborhood has been home to a lot a violence and drugs. Most young people don't make it through traditional education programs."
Before Reconnect, Father O'Shea had been helping teens through after-school programs, but it was one teen who helped him dream bigger. When he was just 13, Efrain Hernandez met Father O'Shea who helped Hernandez through his own hardships. Noticing the lack of a positive space for men like Hernandez to connect and grow, the two teamed up in 2011 to launch their first initiative: local vegetable stands. Two years later, the duo founded Reconnect Cafe and Bakery and began changing lives, "one cup of at a time."
"We came to the point of realizing that if [these teens] are not going to leave the block, we have to change the block," says Father O'Shea. "We just responded to what we saw existing and tried to change how people connected." And while Reconnect aspires to help young people every day -- be it through college work-study or signature chocolate caramel cookies -- Father O'Shea admits, "There's no magic to it. It all goes back to our relationships. That's what it's all about."