Issue – Our Youth
The impact of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent failure of the federal levees placed a national spotlight on New Orleans and exposed the poverty and deprivation of many of its residents. On August 29, 2005, the very day the levees broke, the Census Bureau released a report on poverty in the nation, finding that Orleans Parish had a poverty rate of 23.2 percent, seventh highest among 290 large U.S. counties. So it was long before the destruction of Hurricane Katrina that New Orleans' social infrastructure was failing. New Orleans public schools were some of the worst in the country, shackled with child poverty, crime, high drop-out rates and low test scores. While disheartening enough, many of these young people were exposed to violence, addictions and illegal activities a part of their everyday lives; violence tied to poverty and educational failure.
As New Orleans continues to rebuild, opportunities abound to create more effective social support for low-income and minority residents, especially our youth. Innovation and experience from other U.S. cities, as well as local organizations offer promising strategies for reducing the risks of poverty and opening up opportunities for making the city's social infrastructure stronger and more equitable than it was before Katrina. Liberty’s Kitchen will contribute to the rebuilding of New Orleans by serving disadvantaged youth through an innovative leadership training program.
Our Recipe for Success - Liberty's Kitchen Youth Development Program
Liberty’s Kitchen Youth Development Program offers a highly structured environment in which participants learn and practice professional work skills and attitudes that will serve them for a lifetime. Students are referred to the program through a variety of sources including the judicial system, youth advocate and support agencies, case workers, and often, concerned family members.
Tulane University has developed our application process to maximize success for our students and our program. Applicants participate in a 2-week assessment period where they receive social, mental health, and educational assessments. The student applicants are also asked to participate in a “shadowing” exercise with our Culinary Trainers where they work under supervision in our kitchen and coffee bar and are then evaluated by our staff.
Once selected, our students participate in a 12-week attainment-based training program. The students progress through four tiers of training and achievement, thus giving a sense of accomplishment and the motivation to complete the program. Liberty’s Kitchen also has an open admission policy with the ability to take new students anytime there is availability; having students staggered in our learning tiers gives all students more opportunities for hands-on training, and more importantly, creates real opportunity for peer mentoring.
Our “Recipe for Success” contains four main ingredients:
- Employability and Leadership Skills Training teaches students personal responsiblity and how to make positive choices for themselves and their community. We utilize our working cafe to focus on workplace essentials – skills needed for a successful future - no matter where or what a young person’s future holds.
- On-the-Job Training takes place in our café’s kitchen and at our espresso bar - providing a safe and secure environment to learn basic culinary skills through hands-on, real-world experience alongside our working chefs and baristas. Our cafe and catering menus have been deliberately developed with an eye toward training opportunities.
- Individual Case Management adapts to each student's particular needs by utilizing partner agencies for substance abuse and mental health issues, housing concerns, GED classes and education goals. Liberty’s Kitchen assesses student needs, locates resources and training based on those needs, and follows student progress through the program and beyond.
- Transition Services means finding appropriate employment for our students - our graduates are prepared to step in and thrive not only in the hospitality industry, but many other industries as well. Liberty's Kitchen will work with our students for one full year after program completion to ensure job retention, continuation of any needed social services and/or completion of education goals.
Response to the launch of our youth training program has been immediate and considerable and the large number of applicants indicates the tremendous need and desire for young people in New Orleans to have access to opportunity for their futures.
Our Supportive Community
- W.K. Kellogg Foundation has generously provided a multi-year grant in support of our training programs. The Kellogg Foundation aims to foster communities and programs that enable underprivileged children to be successful individuals and community members - goals shared by Liberty's Kitchen!
- Tulane University School of Public Health has designed our program intake and performance outcome measures and will provide a full evaluation of the efficacy of the program. Tulane's publication of our strategy and results will offer valuable insight about the effectiveness of this type of program not only to the stakeholders of Liberty's Kitchen, but also to the greater community involved in social development.
- Starbucks Coffee Company provides a generous sponsorship for coffee and espresso equipment and product as well as a barista mentoring program.
- New Orleans Providing Literacy to All Youth (NOPLAY) is a GED preparation and adult basic education program and provides academic testing, literacy instruction and GED training and testing for our students.
- Metropolitan Human Services District helps with psychological testing, mental health and substance abuse support.
- Covenant House New Orleans has offered housing assistance and mental health services for our students.
- YA/YA (Young Aspirations/Young Artists) Liberty's Kitchen serves as a gallery location and venue for young artists who have limited access to publicly show and sell their work.
- Criminal Courts System: With our close proximity to the Criminal Courthouse, Liberty’s Kitchen will seek out opportunities for our students to experience positive – not punitive - interaction with the judiciary – as well as the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office, Criminal Sheriff’s Office, Orleans Parish Public Defenders and the NOPD – all located in the vicinity of our facility on South Broad.
- Participants in the Liberty’s Kitchen Guest Speaker Series so far have included the NO/AIDS Task Force, Juvenile Justice Project, Safe Streets/Strong Communities, New Orleans LGBT Task Force and numerous individuals interested in sharing their expertise with our students.