The Future Rising
Society is a complicated machine. There are many moving parts, often working at differing speeds and directions. Every aspect of society is dependent on all the parts doing what has to be done, for the good of the whole.
And sometimes, maybe even often, the synergy and role-playing of a particular part fails. Being left behind is never a good feeling, nor is there an obvious way or the means for some to catch up to where society has moved on.
“We cannot as a community afford to leave any of our children behind,” says Glen Armantrout, chief executive officer of Café Reconcile, founded in 1996 on the premise that New Orleans must address the endemic problems of generational poverty, violence and childhood neglect. The late and universally beloved Father Harry Tompson S.J., whose footprints on New Orleans still are deep and lasting, conceived of this youth-help program based on one the city’s greatest assets: the hospitality community.
“What Harry (as everyone called him) saw was a terrible urban situation that needed to be addressed in a meaningful, not just on the surface, fashion,” Armantrout adds. Because the negatives were so widespread and long in developing, Café Reconcile was challenged to address a lot of core issues simultaneously and with equal amounts of energy.
Solutions had to make sense to supporters, but mostly had to appeal to the at-risk young people and their families.
There is indeed a café, and it’s doing very well. Serving mainly lunch, more than 1,000 young people, ages 16 to 22, have been trained for careers in food service, which means restaurants, catering and special events companies. Graduates of Café Reconcile have gone on to employment in every area of the New Orleans hospitality community.
Café Reconcile is, at its heart, an organization that doesn’t just teach a trade, but also how to get along in life. Its curriculum is centered on teaching social interaction; improving reading comprehension skills and writing; helping the participants understand the dynamics of the job market; the importance of choosing the right companions; making productive use of free time; and instilling the confidence that there’s a place for every human being within society.
Café Reconcile also works to remove the stigma that has been attached to the food service industry by demonstrating New Orleans’ now-critical need for supervisors, managers, skilled workers and higher management in a hospitality industry-driven community.
Forty percent of students/participants are high school graduates who still need some extra attention to assimilate. The 12-week Reconcile program awards them with a diploma, and there’s an ongoing alumni curriculum that further adds to their on-the-job experience, as well as a continuing mentoring program.
When you lunch at Café Reconcile, surrounded by the smiling, eager, young faces of your neighbors who are getting their act together, the food and the future will taste absolutely fantastic. That is a Café Reconcile promise.
Café Reconcile, 1631 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 568-1157, CafeReconcile.org