Historically, Solel is known as a pathfinder congregation in many areas but, most of all, around Tikkun Olam — repairing the world through acts of social justice and social activism. On November 19, we hosted Susan Trieschmann, Founder and Executive Director of Curt’s Café after Shabbat services.

Curt’s (which stands for Cultivating Unique Restaurant Training) is a five year old not-for-profit working cafe that provides training in basic restaurant skills, life skill coaching, and GED tutoring to young people who are from very disadvantaged backgrounds and are at extreme risk of continuing failure. The program is based on a unique combination of love and discipline which has proven to be very successful. While the program is based on a three month agenda, no student is ever dismissed when his or her time is up. There is always a place for a meal, extra mentoring, more help in finding a job or just a place to find support.

Recently, we spoke with congregant Andy Amend who is very involved with the ongoing effort to bring Curt’s Cafe to Highland Park. This cafe will serve Lake County young people who also face the effects of extreme disadvantage.

Q: How does the concept of Curt’s Café work?

A: We believe that Curt’s Café saves lives by transforming at-risk, under-served youth into successful citizens who can participate fully and positively in society. Since its founding, over 200 young adults have been included in the program. Further, Curt’s Cafe is truly a community gathering space that is a positive addition to the Evanston neighborhoods it has moved into. The vibe is so energetic and positive, promising to be a great asset and destination for those living closer to the Highland Park area.

Q: So, the program entails employing these at-risk young adults in the café?

A: Yes, but so much more. The Curt’s Café  model includes restaurant training, awarding each graduate a Certificate of Food Handling, educational tutoring to earn a GED, and life skills’ training to successfully function independently in our society. These life skills range from opening and managing bank accounts to anger and time management. The supportive atmosphere and structure offer young adults the encouragement they may never have experienced.

Q: What is the link between Curt’s Café and the bigger picture?

A: Great question. Many of the young adults involved in the Evanston cafés have had experience with the criminal justice system. Data prove that the program works. The recidivism rate for graduates of Curt’s Café is less than 3%. It climbs to 86% for those who have not experienced the intervention of the program. The cost of graduating a young adult from the Curt’s Café program is between $8,000 and $9,000. A year in prison costs over $146,000. This program gets to the root of our broken criminal justice system and addresses what the Union of Reform Judaism has determined as an urgent issue.

Q: How can I get involved?

A: First, you can visit the Curt’s Cafés currently in business (2922 Central Street and 1813 Dempster — both in Evanston) for a coffee with delicious pastries, breakfast, or lunch. It’s an amazing space that can be enjoyed with one friend or your book club. And, of course, you can donate to Curt’s Cafe Highland Park which is critical for our 2018 opening. Once we open in Highland Park, there will be many volunteer opportunities —tutoring, mentoring, transportation help from local trains, working the counter, and more. We currently welcome help from anyone with real estate connections, fundraising expertise and any other business skill as it would relate to the opening of the cafe.

Q: Has Solel supported Curt’s Café?

A: Absolutely. First, we made a generous contribution through the Human Needs Fund. And Rabbi and Cantor are supporting our work with other community clergy, including Ari Moffic who is one of our best cheerleaders.

Q: When is the Highland Park location opening?

A: Sometime in 2018. We have raised $40,000 so far and are in the running for a sizeable grant. As the funds come in, we will begin to look more seriously at a specific location.

If you would like to get involved in the work of Curt’s Café, contact Andy Amend (Andyamend@me.com). If you have any questions about social justice/action projects at Solel in general, contact Alice Kohn (Solel’s VP/Social Justice at alicenkohn@gmail.com).

Watch this space and solel.org for social justice/social action updates over the months to come.

Copyright © Congregation Solel, 2017. All rights reserved. Member of the Union for Reform Judaism

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