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GOOD WORKS ENCORE

Serving up Opportunity

Coffee shop helps offenders transform lives by

JORDAN BRADLEY

T

he Vine neighborhood’s Walnut & Park Café is dishing out more than just good coffee and freshly baked scones. For those who work there, the café is serving up opportunity with a side of skills. Walnut & Park is part of a vocational training program of the Kalamazoo Probation Enhancement Program (KPEP), which offers residential and nonresidential programs for those on probation or parole as an alternative to incarceration. The café, located at 322 W. Walnut St., is a cozy haven with high, open ceilings. As baristas busy themselves with the task of creating customers’ caffeinated pick-me-ups, it is easy to get lost in the whoosh of the espresso machine and the chatter of other patrons. “I feel like there’s still a lot of people who have no idea (the café is part of a KPEP training program),” says Tera Staten, a vocational program manager at Walnut & Park. “They come in here, and to them we’re just a regular shop, which I think is also a nice compliment. We have such a high bar and high standard for our employees’ customer service, and they rise to it and exceed expectations.” As vocational program managers, Casey Grisolono and Staten, both of whom previously worked for the local Water Street Coffee Joint chain, help to provide practical work experience and teach transferable skills to students in KPEP’s hospitality program. Over the course of the 10-week program, students spend eight weeks learning soft skills in customer service and practical skills in culinary and janitorial service. By the end of the program, students will earn certifications in food handling, workplace safety and CPR.

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“They’re really good at (making) scones by the end,” says Grisolono. Students are also making personal changes as well. As KPEP President and CEO Bill DeBoer sees it, the program works to change criminal thinking, not just teach transferable skills. A typical student in the vocational program has a storied past with

Above: A student prepares a beverage at Walnut & Park. Right: The coffee shop is located on a pivotal corner in the Vine Neighborhood.

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