How a Church’s Cafe Provides Job Training to At-Risk Students

Many champions for the foster care system worry about at-risk 17-to-24 year olds aging out of their system. Once these young people age out, many end up either homeless or in jail. “Being ill-equipped makes these young people quite vulnerable,” Pastor Artie Lindsay, Teaching Pastor at Tabernacle Community Church, explained to me. They are often ill-prepared to navigate the challenges of living a self-sufficient lifestyle.

This is why Tabernacle Community Church (TCC) in Grand Rapids, MI, launched Rising Grinds cafe—to equip at-risk young people with both business skills and life principles.

Originally, the cafe was scheduled to open in May 2017, but a fire totaled the space in November 2016. A restaurant planning to relocate offered their space for lease, allowing TCC to begin rebuilding.

Rising Grinds Cafe officially opened its doors this month on November 20. Earlier this month, the cafe held a soft opening, and more than 65 Tabernacle congregants visited the cafe to try items like Guatemalan coffee, cookies, sandwiches, and soups. (Interestingly, the Guatemalan connection was developed when one of TCC’s partners went there for 6 months, as a missionary from TCC, and did work on his dissertation.)

Months before the fire occurred, a young person who aged out of the foster care system had named the cafe Rising Grinds. How appropriate for a cafe that did rise from literal ashes.

 

Hiring High-Risk Students

Located near the church, Rising Grinds cafe seeks to hire “high-risk” students. By high-risk, Pastor Artie Lindsay means students who come from high-poverty communities. Many of these students have come to Grand Rapids as refugees or have experienced the foster care system. The young employees include primarily African-American and Hispanic young people.

As these young people engage in business, Artie hopes that they will learn how to run a business and acquire skills for all of life, skills like responsibility, leadership, and hard work that will serve them in becoming self-sufficient citizens. Ultimately, Artie hopes that some of these young people will move into management roles within the business. If the cafe turns a profit, the plan is to offer to share profits with these young people.

 

Value of Partnership

In 2010, God told Artie that to make a real impact in these vulnerable communities, their church could not be a lone ranger. Instead, Tabernacle has been intentional about partnering with other organizations. Artie not only tapped into the vocational power and business acumen of his congregation but he wisely pursued nonprofit and for-profit partners whose leaders were attending Tabernacle. For example, Rising Grounds now works with Bethany Christian Services and their construction program, Youthbuild, which assists students in earning their GED, provides case management, and also allows them hands-on experience in renovating the cafe space.

 

Revitalizing Struggling Communities

Rising Grinds Cafe is the second social enterprise that Tabernacle Community Church has helped launch. The first was a lawn care business—Building Bridges Professional Services—that has flourished under the church over the last few years.

The launching of these two social enterprises resonates with Artie, who has a burden and passion for community revitalization. And this explains why he continues to work extensively in the community to address the very real physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of community members.

 

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Dr. Luke Bobo serves as director of resource and curriculum development at Made to Flourish. He worked for 15 years in the marketplace as an engineer before earning his M.Div. and Ph.D., eventually serving as the executive director of the Francis Schaeffer Institute at Covenant Seminary.