Preparing in the kitchen.

Café Momentum Is Equipping Pittsburgh’s Justice-Involved Youth With Career and Life Skills

Pittsburgh’s justice-involved youth have gained new life skills, education, and employment opportunities since Café Momentum opened its doors in March 2023. Locals and tourists alike get to enjoy delicious, freshly prepared meals while supporting intern youth undergoing the restaurant’s 12-month internship curriculum.

More Than a Café

Intern at Café Momentum.
Photo Credit: Café Momentum.

Café Momentum works with Pittsburgh’s Juvenile Justice Department to support justice-involved interns between the ages of 15 and 19 in gaining crucial life skills, including financial education and career readiness, to help them thrive as they move into adulthood. The paid internship program was initially launched in Dallas, Texas, in 2015.

Dedicated case managers in Pittsburgh cater to interns’ individual needs, which include offering mental health, social skills, and career exploration support.

Gene Walker is the Executive Director at Café Momentum. He says, “The difference between who I am today and who I could have been is the result of caring adults, stepping in at critical times in my life to make a positive difference. I believe we are those caring adults for the youth we serve at Café Momentum Pittsburgh. Our desire is to be there for them at those critical times to help make a positive difference in their lives. If we do that often enough, we have an opportunity to change not only their life, but the lives of everyone that they encounter.”

Reciprocal Souvenirs

Plate of gourmet dessert.
Photo Credit: Café Momentum.

As part of the responsible tourism movement, some tourists are seeking local businesses like Café Momentum in Pittsburgh to spend their tourism dollars, feeling good about helping a positive cause in the community.

“In Pittsburgh, we’re proud to be known as an approachable city, where everyone is welcome. As a city of 90 neighborhoods built by immigrants, our community and values have held strong over hundreds of years,” VisitPITTSBURGH President & CEO Jerad Bachar said. “Businesses like Café Momentum take community impact to the next level and allow visitors to be a part of this much larger story. When folks travel to Pittsburgh and experience these destinations firsthand, they in turn give a souvenir back to the city and its residents.”

A Big Family

Interns at Café Momentum.
Photo Credit: Café Momentum.

Despite Café Momentum being in operation for only about six months, Pittsburgh interns already feel its impact.

“Café Momentum means a lot to me,” says intern Marissa. “They help me resolve conflict, overcome barriers, and support me through whatever I need help with. Café Momentum changed my life for the better. I now realize I have a whole support system behind me.”

The staff’s mission to transform young lives is palpable. Marissa says, “Café Momentum is more than a job. They help prepare you for the real world and give you life skills. Café Momentum is a big group of adults who help kids have a purpose. It is a big family and I’m happy to have them in my life.”

Cheyenne Tyler, Director of Programs, echoes this sentiment. “At Café Momentum Pittsburgh, we pour into our interns in every facet of their life. We have made it our priority to create a space where young people are challenged, supported, and safe; a place where they are free to just be kids!”

Looking Ahead

Intern at Café Momentum.
Photo Credit: Café Momentum.

Upon the completion of Café Momentum’s curriculum, intern graduates will receive support in job placements throughout Pittsburgh, where they can continue to build their careers. This full-circle program is designed to be as impactful for interns as it is for Pittsburgh residents.

“Café Momentum impacts our community by essentially educating everyone on what community is, what it means,” says Chef Peter Henry, Chef de Cuisine. “Fifty years ago, communities raised families together, came together to grow, to eat, everything. Community is for everyone. Our community makes sure every person is supported, seen, and taken care of.”

In addition to Café Momentum Pittsburgh, travelers can visit Café Momentum’s locations in Dallas and Nashville.

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