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A Jazz Club Giving Hope to Youth on Probation

“What if we could create a really safe environment that allows the youth to be seen for who they are, not just mistakes they’ve made?” – Teresa Goines 

We’ve talked a lot lately about bridging the divide. Teresa Goines is someone who lives and breathes it through her work. Teresa is the founder of Old Skool Cafe, a San Francisco restaurant and jazz club that is fully staffed by youth on probation.

As a young correctional officer, Teresa longed for a more meaningful way to help troubled youth stay out of the system. It took her eight years to open the doors to Old Skool Cafe, but today the restaurant is having a powerful impact. The youth who work there have a recidivism rate of 10%, compared to the national average of 76%. We salute Teresa as our Architect of Change of the Week.

What inspired you to start Old Skool Cafe?

As a 22-year-old corrections officer, my eyes were opened to a heart-breaking world where thousands of kids are locked up, who feel abandoned, thrown away and that their life has no value. I witnessed the constant revolving door of kids serving time, getting released, only to be re-arrested a week later and return to our facility. There were conversations where these young people told me they didn’t expect to live long enough to celebrate their 18th birthday, or asked if I could be their mom and they could come live with me when they go out because their home situation was so terrible. Many were in foster care and had no “home” or family. Seeing that much despair and hopelessness in the precious eyes of so many youth put a fire in my belly to find a solution…a real, life-changing, holistic solution, for these young people trapped in the cycle of poverty, violence and incarceration. I began praying with tears on my way home from work every night, asking God to give me a vision for a solution. The answer and vision was Old Skool Cafe.  

Why did a restaurant seem like the way to go?

A restaurant felt like the right idea because it’s an industry with multiple jobs and transferrable skills. Every single city in the world has restaurants, and there are lots of jobs. I love that it isn’t just one thing. There’s the front of house, serving, hosting, bartending, dishwashing, prep, learning how to cook, the entertainment, the marketing, and the fundraising since we’re a nonprofit. A lot of them were behind in school, and I wanted something that would help them break the ceiling of minimum wage and create upward mobility. I also wanted a place that would help bridge the gap and bring worlds together that would never intersect otherwise. I thought, “What if we could create a really safe environment that allows the youth to be seen for who they are, not just mistakes they’ve made?” It’s a place you’re where coming to have great food and wine and entertainment and interact with these young people and see them differently.

What is one story that you have found particularly inspiring?

Jeremiah had just been released from jail when he was 19, after spending most of his teenage years in and out of jail. He immediately went back to the same behaviors upon release, violating his probation and on his way to being part of the statistic of a national rate of 76% recidivism (people returning to jail/prison over and over after they are released). Old Skool’s rate of recidivism is 10% for youth that have gone through our program.   

His probation officer had several youth on her case load go to Old Skool and break that cycle and turn their lives around, so she gave him the option of either going to our program or back to jail. 

Jerry & Me Ice Skating. InstagramBecause we loved Jeremiah, surrounded him with support, structure and hope—instead of just locking him away in a cell—he has been able to graduate high school and get off probation. He’s earned over seven college scholarships and has completed two years of college. He is living independently, has over $5,000 in savings and is now working at an after-school program where he is a mentor for junior high at-risk youth! 

As an alum of our program, Jeremiah regularly reaches out for mentorship to talk through the challenging things, as well as the exciting achievements in his life. People often ask me how I measure success with our youth. These are the results that are most important to me, that our youth have learned that they are valuable and precious and how to connect with positive community and STAY connected for the rest of their lives. These are some of my most cherished moments!

What advice do you have for someone who wants to make a difference, but feels the challenge is too daunting?
Just step out. I’m still afraid. There is a pastor that said something that resonated with me in the middle of it. She said, “Do it afraid.” Leaders do it afraid. Don’t feel like because you don’t have all of the answers, because you’re intimidated or not qualified, that you can’t. If you have an idea, just take a step at a time. I started out doing pilots. I found a few volunteers who would believe in my crazy idea and worked to see how it went. I’ve been humiliated by influential people and laughed out of rooms and dismissed, but I got back up and did it again. I started in 2004, then started doing events in 2005, and it took me until 2012 to get the restaurant open. I was exhausted and felt like it was never going to come to fruition. The whole thing is a miracle. I hope it does encourage people to not give up. Don’t give up, even when things seem like they’re not working. Learn from it, tweak it, and try again.

What are you thankful for this week?
I remember as a correctional officer feeling kind of hopeless at how huge the problem was. I said, “Please God, there has to be a solution.” Now I’m totally walking in it. I’m so thankful for that, especially with all of the stuff happening now — with all of the hate and dissension in our country. We actually have a place of healing and hope and of dreams being fulfilled. I’m also thankful to God for fulfilling this vision to bring people together from worlds that would never normally come together. They see each other through eyes of love and are part of the solution to the big problem we see.