Youngstown Diocese, library cook up collaboration with cafe

Fr. Ed Brienz of the Youngstown Diocese

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – An estimated 6,000 Valley residents between the ages of 18 and 24 have no high school diploma and live in poverty.

Giving young people who dropped out of high school a shot at a job is the goal of a new program announced on Monday.

The Youngstown Catholic Diocese and the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County have teamed up to teach life skills in the kitchen through Cafe Augustine, which will be located at the Newport Library on Youngstown’s upper south side. It will be located in the same spot where the Chapters Cafe used to be.

“We settled on the name of Cafe Augustine because Augustine was a young man who wandered in life, had a lot of talent and eventually settled down and became quite accomplished at life,” said Fr. Ed Brienz, who runs the Youngstown Diocese Office of Missions.

Once it is open, Cafe Augustine students will learn life skills to keep a job and get off the streets. And there is only a few requirements.

“They have to pass drug tests and have to be making positive progress. It is not a flop house type of a program,” Fr. Brienz said.

Brienz said he got the idea when he saw how well the program worked in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. A group of volunteers from the Diocese went to New Orleans to clean up after the hurricane.

“Of those who complete the four-month program, a year later, 80 percent of them were gainfully employed. I saw that and said ‘we’ve got to have this in Youngstown’,” Brienz said.

In New Orleans, the cafe was called Cafe Reconcile.

Once they graduate from the program, students then will get a one-month paid internship at a local restaurant.

“Once they are in, once they are on the payroll, the result is they are an employee and lot of times if they are doing a good job they can count on retaining their job,” Brienz said.

The diocese said it plans to open Cafe Augustine some time this summer and should cost between $175,000 and $200,000 to operate. Organizers hope to raise the money through fundraisers and donations, as well as through the restaurant operation.

Fr. Brienz said the restaurant will benefit the library too by bringing a lot of foot traffic into the Newport branch, which is located at the corner of Market Street and Midlothian Boulevard.

“Actually, it becomes a destination. People come because they know their purchase is helping young people to turn their lives around,” he said.

He said the location is ideal because some people who live in that neighborhood are the ones targeted by the program. In addition, the location is on a bus line, so people can come and go as they need to and learn independence.

Library director Heidi Daniel said the cafe is a perfect fit for the library.

“Several of our libraries already have cafe spaces. And how that works is people come in and often find it a great convenience to be able to get lunch, check out a book, go to a program,” Daniel said.

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