A new cafe opened in the School of Social Service Administration on Thursday, April 27.
Try-Me Cafe is run by Lawrence Hall, a nonprofit that works with at-risk Chicago youth. Individuals are referred to Lawrence Hall’s programs by the Department of Children and Family Services, Chicago Public Schools, or the juvenile justice system.
Lawrence Hall’s programs include a foster care program, a therapeutic day school, academic tutoring, and a job-training program. Try-Me is a branch of that job-training program. It aims to help teenagers who are in foster care or the juvenile justice system gain work experience.
“We’ve been really trying to work on community expansion for the last two years,” said Kara Teeple, the Chief Executive Officer of Lawrence Hall. “We’ve had the culinary arts program at Lawrence Hall for about 30 years, but now we’re able to expand in the community to actually have kids get work experience and mentoring.”
Janisha Jackson, an employee at the new cafe who has been involved with Lawrence Hall since she was a 7-year-old in the foster system, said she was thrilled to work at Try-Me.
Her first day on the job was “really, really fun,” Jackson said. “I love it. It’s not only the job, it’s the people you’re around.”
Lawrence Barnes, another cafe employee, was also enthusiastic. “Working here is good,” he said with a smile. “It keeps me busy.”
Barnes and Jackson, like the rest of the cafe’s employees, will work at Try-Me for a few months before moving on to more permanent placements. A new set of Lawrence Hall trainees will replace them.
“This is a transitional job,” said Sean McGinnis, vice president of youth and community development programs at Lawrence Hall. “Ideally they’ll work here for six to nine months, they’ll get their customer service experience, and then we’ll help them find competitive employment.”
Jackson, though, hopes to be around for a little longer. Last year, she applied to the University of Chicago—and got in.
Due to unexpected circumstances, she wasn’t able to attend. But this year, she is working on another application. She hopes to be accepted again.
In the meantime, Jackson will show up to campus every day to serve students coffee, hoping that one day soon, she will be on the other side of the counter.
Try-Me Cafe will be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Monday through Thursday during the spring quarter, and is working to expand its hours for the new school year. It has partnered with Metropolis Coffee and Rishi Tea to offer a variety of caffeinated beverages as well as cold drinks, sandwiches, salads, and pastries.
Prior to Try-Me’s opening, the School of Social Services Administration had not had a cafe for several years.