Community Matters Cafe Serves Up Coffee, Lunch And Hope
There's a new restaurant and cafe near uptown serving up breakfast, lunch, and a dose of hope for the people who work there. Community Matters Cafe opened in April, is run by Charlotte Rescue Mission to help people ease back into the workforce after they finish its residential substance abuse recovery programs.
It's on West First Street, on the other side of Bank of America Stadium from uptown Charlotte. The servers, hosts and baristas all are sober after the four-month recovery program. They're learning not just restaurant tasks, but life skills they need as they return to life on their own - sticking to a schedule, managing money and coping with job stress.
Angela Twiford is one of the students, as they're called.
"I've waited tables, hostessed, prepped in the kitchen. I have not done the pastry yet. I think the lesson it's taught me is that you could still do this. … I am not too old to start over," Twiford said.
She came to Charlotte Rescue Mission after a downward spiral with alcohol and drugs that landed her in a psychiatric hospital. She said she saw no hope. At Community Matters Cafe, she's regained confidence.
"For me, it's a representation of a new life. It has given me a chance to try to put my life back together. But it's had to come from the ground up," Twiford said.
RESTORED FACTORY, RESTORED HOPE
The cafe is in a renovated spindle factory on the grounds of the Charlotte Rescue Mission. The work cost more than $2 million, and was paid for by local businesspeople and other private donations.
The idea was to extend the services of the rescue mission.
"A lot of the people that we serve have lost everything due to their addiction. So we're here to help them gain back the skills necessary to start rebuilding their life again. The reason behind why we do this is to restore hope," said spokeswoman Rachel DiBattista.
Two dozen students have started the four-month training so far. They get a weekly stipend of $25, a $75 meal allowance, health and dental care, and free housing at the Rescue Mission.
Life skills program director Rita Clyburn said students are chosen carefully.
"Were they already working on change, are they really wanting change? Because over here it's all about behavioral changes, learning new ways to cope with life, you know, without the use of drugs and drinking," Clyburn said.
GRADUATION, THEN SUPPORT
Clyburn said the first group 11 students has already graduated and found jobs - many in food service.
"They all are successfully employed, have safe housing. The life skills are the main part that we focus on, on teaching them to keep the jobs. 'Cause they can get jobs, now we want them to keep them," she said.
The program doesn't end there. Clyburn said she stays in touch with students for at least six months after they graduate and start new jobs.
Ed Price helped start up the operation. He worked previously at a similar program on Charlotte's east side, called Project 658, where training for recovering substance abusers is based around a catering service.
The menu at Community Matters includes pancakes and eggs, pulled pork and chicken salad sandwiches, salads, and espresso drinks.
"The idea for the restaurant from the beginning was to create something that was excellent. Not to create grilled cheese, cold soup, and folding tables and chairs," Price said.
The cafe is managed by a professional staff - including a pastry chef - all hired for their expertise in food service. Here, they're called instructors - which captures their dual role of not just overseeing the work, but helping their students navigate on-the-job relationships.
Executive Chef Nick Kepp said teaching is a big part of any kitchen. But at Community Matters, there's more. When a conflict simmered between two students recently, it was up to him to get them through it.
"You find out that another life skill that's reinforced here is leaving the outside when you clock in," Kepp said.
STARTING A NEW LIFE
In a month and a half, Angela Twiford will graduate from the program. She's thinking about what she'd like to do: something working with people - maybe arranging flowers at a grocery store or a desk job helping people schedule appointments.
And outside of work?
"The two things I'm looking forward to the most are a bathtub and an oven to cook in," she said, laughing happily.
Twiford said she knows she can make it, because she's got the people at Community Matters Cafe behind her to help in her new life.
Community Matters Cafe website, http://communitymatterscafe.com/