verticalWhen you turned 18, how prepared were you to take on the world?  Not from the security of your familial home or college dorm, but truly live on your own, hold a job and be a capable adult? I wasn’t. Then again, I didn’t have to worry about it. I was going to college, supported by my parents and the “real world” was years away. And when I did step out, I had both support and time to learn the ropes.

I was fortunate. But many are not, particularly foster youth who are aging out of the system. At 18 they lose many of the services and supports that have kept them fed and sheltered; they are forced to navigate life on their own, with little preparation.  Alameda County recognized this as a problem and began to seek solutions to give these new adults a better start.

At the same time there was a rather practical problem that needed an answer. The new county juvenile justice facility had no concessions for visiting families. The desire to share a meal or a snack when visiting is strong. Even in less than ideal circumstances, food brings people together. 

From two seeming unrelated problems, a beautiful solution was born: the Fresh Start Cafés.  Working in partnership with several county agencies, and with a private vendor who supplies food vending to Alameda County, a café – staffed by foster youth who were on the verge of aging out of the system – was created at the visitor center.  The job training in food service delivery, cashiering and customer service is proving to be invaluable experience that will help these youth secure employment.  The café proved to be such as success that two others have opened at county facilities.

The creative problem-solving and passion from staff, the café manager all the way up to the County Administrator to give foster youth a better start in life makes the Fresh Start Cafés a notable Challenge Award recipient. To see a video of this program, click here.