Adolescents in the Juvenile Justice System and 17-18 year old young adults on Adult Probation must have alternative learning experiences to better assure they become resilient and crime free adults in the community. In May of 2016, Assured Family Services (AFS) developed the Turn Around Coffee Café which will provide opportunities for personal success, employment, pay, and hands-on learning for young adults to learn work place skills and communication. These are youth that have been deemed “at risk” and “system” youth, thus categorized as “self-fulfilling failures.”
AFS became engaged with the 17 year old youth three years ago when Chief Jeriel Heard, of the WC Jail, observed these young people struggling, often homeless or disowned by family and other social relationships, not engaged in school or work life and experiencing trauma that caused serious misdirection in their social choices and community relationships. Chief Heard asked for our assistance to be a resource to help the youthful offenders obtain the necessary supports to stay out of jail and be safe in the community. Most juvenile justice youth and adult justice ‘youth’ have never had a job, are behind academically, and believe they are unable to become successfully independent via employment because of lack of education and criminal activity. Their attitudes and beliefs can be self-fulfilling and they often act on the concept that they must survive by “any means necessary.” With very little financial support, limited positive relationships we let them fulfill the shared belief of failure.
Over the years, as we have worked collaboratively with Juvenile Justice and Adult Criminal Justice professionals, we have provided relational case management and clinical treatment that has supported these youth to begin thinking about being crime free and engage in positive supportive relationships. Achieving the goal of stability is difficult when they are represented as having defeated attitudes, limited skills and seeing a very limited future. Each of these young people needs to find an identity that is crime-free with a vision of “I can be” so that the desire to learn, practice and experience success is meaningful. Without a supportive environment that provides incremental and achievable challenges and in which they are motivated to try, imagine and realize their own abilities the youth will likely return to ‘survival crime’ to meet their primary needs. We know that if a young adult does not see an ability to “make it” they will not succeed in staying away from negative relationships or being victimized by crime. Young people require ‘psychological safety’ to be able to apply their self and to learn. Just “talk encouragement” is not enough. We need to provide and they need to see a personal outcome including a paycheck that raises their self-value and desire to learn. Young people must see themselves as able to earn a living and to have value for a work product; to have a purpose and to feel useful requires a new type of therapeutic environment. An environment where it is safe and accepted to learn, be mentored, be supported in mistakes and that feels real.
Feeling like a contributing adult citizen encourages the effort to behave as an adult citizen. The young adult run business is called the “Turn Around Coffee Café” and is located at 7310 Woodward Ave., in the north-central Detroit business area at the corner of East Grand Blvd. and Woodward Avenue. This location has potential for a long term learn and work experience for many young people that are not able to engage yet in a more advanced and comprehensive work force development program. The concept of using a Coffee Café to provide subsidized, pre-job readiness development, both classroom based and on the job; better enhances the youth’s pro-social soft skills, résumé ready abilities, and interviewing experience and employment expectations. The provision of real “on the job” training within a safe and close environment, better ensures sequential learning, conceptual thinking, communication development, trust building, customer service skills and entrepreneur experience. This environment provides the young people with a place to succeed while becoming a part of the work force in the community. The Turn Around Coffee Café is in a professional location, creates a close, safe, structured and mentored experience in which learning and practicing communication in the work place, understanding the importance of being on time and time management, work place dress and demeanor, the performance of simple work tasks, work safety and relating to customers and colleagues come together through a distinct experience. All of this is achieved successfully and when mistakes are made and more assistance is needed, it can be provided without conflict, failure, or defeat.
Success can only promote more success, if provided in small, engaging encounters and rewarded with praise and the sense of “earning” while “learning.” Networking in an environment of diversity and professionalism challenges the youth to build upon their current successes and to explore new career options. This familiarity with professional and blue collar role models reduces the lure into an adult criminal system and inspires the youth to believe in their own potential. By learning on the job and networking via the daily work of a Coffee Café in a professional community, the youth will not only be able to maintain a personal work/learning schedule but to also see the opportunity that more education can provide as they desire to advance from coffee ‘barista’ on to other preferred jobs. As they network with the professionals and working citizens who engage with them (over purchased coffee and snacks) in conversation about their work and their plans, life sustaining strategies and concepts can become reality. Within the next year, the Q-line Rail will open and we will be ready with skilled coffee “baristas” or a portion of them may be working in other jobs and we have more youth in training.
It has become a privilege for these youth to demonstrate to their customers their commitment to a work place and be seen in the public eye as a “success”. One youth in particular has had an “eye opening” experience and often shares ideas that show he has a sense of ownership and leadership. When he was cleaning equipment and preparing for the next day, he noted, “This is what bosses do”. The confidence of being a self-directed “boss of me” is everything!