CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The Community Matters Cafe opened in April and already it is changing lives and serving good food.
The cafe is part of the Charlotte Rescue Mission. It gives those battling drug addiction a second chance to get their lives back together through treatment and hard work. About 30 people are now working in the cafe during the breakfast and lunch hours. The requirement to work in the Cafe, students must complete an intense four month treatment program.
“It is wonderful,” Student Jimmie Brown said. “Everybody here is so wonderful.”
Brown works at Community Matters Cafe. He has been working here for about three months. He says he got hooked on drugs when he started hanging around the wrong people at the age of 30.
"Alcohol at first," he said. "And then a little marijuana and then the cocaine came in later on."
He is from Greenville, SC and developed an addiction there. He heard about the program at the Charlotte Rescue Mission. He says his addiction got so bad that he needed to get away to get sober.
“I knew too many people were there cause I was born and raised there,” Brown said. “And I just wanted a different atmosphere - maybe I could take up roots in Charlotte.”
Once Brown arrived to Charlotte for help, he got the help he needed and was put on the road to stay clean.
“You had to get a sponsor,” Brown said. “You have to go to meetings and you have to get a network and you have to socialize with people that are having a problem like you, and listen to their stories and share your stories with them.”
Rita Clyburn is the Clinical Director for Student Services. She says after completing the four month treatment program at the Mission, students are ready for the next step - getting to work. She says Community Matters Cafe helps with that and offers skills students need to live again.
“Teaches communication skills,” Clinical Director Rita Clyburn said. “Conflict resolution - how to handle feedback, all those things we take for granted sometimes.”
Clyburn also says working at the Cafe allows students to mess up a little bit and not get fired. They can use that life lesson to help them in future when they bounce back and get a job on their own.
“We equip them hopefully to be able to go to any work that they want to do,” Clyburn said. “Any choosing and use the same skills.”
The students learn all aspects of the Cafe.
“I started out as a buser - cleaning the tables,” Brown said. “Re-setting the tables and then start serving - taking orders and then I went to the dish room, and then I did the prep for the cooks for the kitchen. Now I am working with two ladies in the bakery.”
Students do have some challenging days at the cafe, but restaurant manager Jenny Villapando helps get them through.
“I think it’s hard for people to see those folks as regular people,” Restaurant Manager Jenny Villapando said. “That’s all they are - are regular people that need another chance to get stuff back in order...We just try to give them hope and to be positive - tell them that we love them and we want them to succeed.”
Villapando has worked in the restaurant industry for years. She thought she was done with the industry but when this opportunity presented itself, she couldn’t say No. She says it offered something different.
“Being here where I am actually making a difference for people,” she said. “Doing something that’s helping some folks instead of just putting some money in the owner’s pocket has been really awesome.”
Students get a weekly stipend for working at the cafe. Also the Charlotte Rescue Mission provides them room and board. After students finish their four month job at the cafe, the Mission still provides some support.
“My plan is to take up roots here in Charlotte,” Brown said. “Get a job and try to relocate here in Charlotte and I don’t think I’ll do no good back home.”
The Cafe is located on West First Street near the Bank of America Stadium. It is open for Breakfast and lunch and management says people are enjoying their experience. Leaders say so far so good with this concept. They hope in about a year they will have hard data to show the impact of working at Community Matters Cafe.