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Cafe Climb Opens in Gulfport to Train At-Risk Young Adults

By Rhonda Miller | Published 13 Sep 2012 10:26pm | comments

A culinary training program for at-risk young adults is operating a new café in downtown Gulfport.  In addition to cooking up southern favorites like shrimp creole and black-eyed peas, MPB’s Rhonda Miller reports the café has a special recipe for helping young people realize their dreams.

"I’ll have today’s special with the black-eyed peas and the fried okra.” “Can I get you something to drink - sweet tea?”

The lunch buzz is starting at Café Climb, an old factory transformed into a bright, welcoming space with exposed brick, big windows and blackboards offering the day’s specials.

Twenty-five-year-old Aston Ridgeway is taking orders at the front register today.

"I personally want to be in management and I felt Iike I would get the skills to know every part of the restaurant business by being in this program."

Café Climb opened a week ago, with 20 student cooks, servers and cashiers guided by two culinary professionals -a chef and a kitchen manager.  Some of the students are high school dropouts, several are finishing their GEDs, and some have gone to community college.

In the kitchen, 23-year-old Craig Dean is chopping tomatoes.

"Really, I joined this program to bascially better myself, do something with myself.  I was getting in trouble a lot, in and out of trouble, with the police. So I had to find something to take up my time."

Dean dropped out of high school. He got his GED, then realized he needed more training. He says Café Climb taught him more than he expected.

"They teach you, basically, good communication skills, teach you how to work well with others. That’s pretty good, that’s a good asset down the road."

Café Climb is a program created by International Relief and Development Gulf Coast.  CEO Lori West says the goal of Cafe Climb is to help students move up into a sustainable career.  West says the program will continue to work with students after they graduate in November.

"We’ll place them in internships with some of our partner restaurants, hotels and casinos. We’ll assist them in employment, internships, college entry, military entry and  some of them, hopefully, will become employed here, with us."

From more than 200 applications, Café Climb will train 40 students this year. Rhonda Miller. MPB News. Biloxi.




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