Hope Cafe was recently featured on Windy City Live! Watch the video or, to read the whole article, click here. We want to thank our regular coffee-drinkers for their support to Chicago Hope Academy. And special thanks to Ji from WCL for coming over to experience coffee with a great cause!
By Marie Balice-Ward
Society often shuns people who have been convicted of crimes and spent time in prison. Once released back into the community, they find the possibility of obtaining a job is practically non-existent.
Opportunities to adapt successfully to life after prison can be found, however, at Hope Café, located in a historic building at 2431 W. Roosevelt Rd. Bob Muzikowski, founder of Chicago Hope Academy at 2189 W. Bowler St., a Christian based, non-profit high school for underprivileged children, launched the café a year ago in May.
Hope Café occupies a building renovated by the late William Lavicka, “who with his wife rehabbed 19th century properties that were no longer inhabited,” Muzikowski said. He noted that, with the rehab, Lavicka and his wife “created a peaceful, welcoming atmosphere where excellent fare is now offered.”
“Because our Christian-based school is independent and does not receive any federal money, we have to be creative,” Muzikowski stated. “Some of the proceeds from the café help support the school, albeit on a smaller scale compared to the support from banks and the National Stabilization Trust.”
The trust donates foreclosed properties to the school, which Muzikowski and his team rehab and sell to fund school scholarships.
Although Hope Café contributes to the school’s financial support, “it serves another very important purpose,” Muzikowski explained. “It is a community outreach destination. We hold special events of all kinds here, among them bridal showers, baby showers, weddings, and many others.”
“The café hosts Alcoholics Anonymous meetings every Saturday from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m.,” Ross said. “Prayer group meetings also take place at Hope Café, and we are developing plans to have a special program for children in the near future. The café also serves as a meeting place for local business people and local residents.”
The café obtains employees through the Moody Bible Institute, the homeless shelter Safe Haven, and other social service and religions organizations.
“We believe that, to be true Christians, we must help those in need,” Ross said. Ross met Muzikowski “by accident,” he said. He was changing a tire, and Muzikowski was the only one who offered help.
“I plan to stay in this neighborhood ,” Ross added. “We need to take action based on our Christian faith, not just words.”
Employee Kenard Crosby is celebrating his first anniversary at Hope Cafe.
“I have fallen in love with the cause,” Crosby said. “I love the fact that [the café] is a Christian organization that allows prayer and talk about Christ in the cafe. A number of pastors from local ministries meet with Bob, and he invites children to attend Chicago Hope Academy.”
Jeff Stracker has worked at Hope Café for two months and lives in the area. A former Californian, Stracker came with considerable café experience.
“The Café has a lot of repeat clients who enjoy our variety of coffees, teas, home-baked pastries, and breakfast and brunch fare,” Stracker said. “A number of our clients also take advantage of our wifi connection. The place has great vibes.”
The café is not Muzikowski’s only community improvement venture. “We are now creating a running track adjacent to one of the roughest neighborhoods in the City,” he said. “We cannot rely strictly on the government to rehabilitate our neighborhoods. It is the community’s job to fix our space. We have to take measures ourselves to make abandoned areas safe and teach people how to live.
“In all we employ 70 people including the school staff, building rehabbers, and café staff,” he said. The building housing Hope Café has served as an athletic club and social haven for the German community and once was known as Vorwaerts Turner Hall. It was constructed by the Turnverein Vorwaerts (Forwards Turners). The Turners began in Germany in the early 1800s as a gymnastics and political movement; in the U.S., Turner societies also served a social role in helping immigrants assimilate to American culture.
Carved in the building’s limestone façade is the phrase “gut heil,” which means “good healing,” and a bust of Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, who founded the Turner Movement. It also sports the letters “FFST,” representing four German words that translate to English as healthy, upright, strong, and true. The building also served as an African-American Baptist Church for many years. Hope Café and funds raised from building rehabs and sales make a difference at Chicago Hope Academy, Muzikowski noted. “Among this year’s Chicago Hope Academy graduates, several have been accepted at prestigious schools including Brown, Columbia University, Notre Dame, and Lake Forest University, and we have been able to offer them scholarships toward defraying the cost.”
To see a Hope Café menu, log on to www.chicagohopecafe.com.
For more information or to rent the venue for an event, call (312) 857-6499.
To contact Chicago Hope Academy, call (312) 491-1600 or log on to www.chicagohopeacademy.org.
By Evan F. Moore
"NORTH LAWNDALE — James Ross, general manager of Hope Cafe in North Lawndale, believes in second chances. So much so that he employs the forgiven like himself to work at Hope Cafe alongside him.
"I got guys here in the community who couldn't get work anywhere else," Ross said. "There's guys who have felony records like myself. I know what it is like. The best way to stop a bullet is a job."
"I think people are inspired by us being here. It takes a lot to get footing here," Ross said. "We've been talking to some of the local initiatives in the neighborhood. It brings hope to the neighborhood. They see a local business that's giving back."
Most of the proceeds from the coffee shop go to Chicago Hope Academy, a Christian high school that helps undeserved students become ready for college. The school, 2189 W. Bowler St., was founded by Bob Muzikowski, the inspiration for Keanu Reeves' character in the 2001 film, "Hardball."
Muzikowski, who once spent time behind bars for a bar fight, said the school owns the coffee shop, which is doing well financially. He said the school-local business relationship is rooted in his Christian faith.
"People talk about Christianity, but we actually do it," Muzikowski said." We don't take one dime from the government. We solicit funds from donors."
Some of the school's students volunteer at the coffee shop, Ross said.
Ross, 33, said the lure of the street life is tough for many ex-felons to shake. He said Muzikowski approached him about opening the coffee shop in order to toss a gift to an old friend.
"I was in between getting out of what I was doing and getting married.
I needed something that was steady and during the day," Ross said. "When you're married, you don't want to work at night. Bob said, 'Let's get the coffee house started.'"
Hope Cafe also hosts Alcoholics' Anonymous meetings and Bible Study along with wedding, bridal showers and church fundraisers. Ross credits his Christian faith for helping him stay on the on the rigth path.
"I was trying to get away from the streets. I was sick and tired of living this lifestyle," Ross said. "I came to the lord. A friend told to come to the Lord. It's been seven years I've been walking with him. I haven't regretted it."
Ross also said that working and having a routine keeps him off the streets.
"When you're working for that paycheck, you're tired," Ross said. "You don't have time to mess around in the streets."
Kenard Crosby, 57 is an employee of Hope Cafe. He too has a criminal background. He said being gainfully employed can help ex-felons reintegrate themselves into society.
"That would cut down on the violence. It would give people some hope," said Crosby, a Hyde Park resident. "If they don't have something to look forward to, they will go right back into jail. Places like this helps."
Muzikowski said more businesses ought get involved in the schools in their communities.
"We need to open more faith-based schools," Muzikowski said. "We don't need more cops. We need to take it on ourselves."
The Hope Cafe plans to hold a one-year anniversary celebration next month. An exact date has yet to be determined, Ross said."
To create this innovative "photo novella," one of the country's leading photojournalist, Danny Wilcox Frazier, took photos of participants from our wonderful Affiliate location, Gilda's Club Chicago. The participants shared their stories and gave their time, energy and insight to make this possible. We visited amazing places in Chicago, including Millennium Park, a community garden, historical St. Gabe's church and the Chicago History museum. We shot one chapter at the Hope Cafe, a place of peace and hope founded and ran by individuals seeking a second chance after addiction and imprisonment. Our people and locations all shared one thing--a deep sense of hope.
Click here to download the Novllla PDF