"A great age-old biblical adage—teach a kid to fish or give them a fish."
Marilyn Schlossbach | Kula Cafe | Work-Study Program
(Community of the Heart)
Marilyn Schlossbach is a businesswoman, mother, and self-described community activist. As well as giving back and investing in her local community she also gets involved working in Haiti. Recently, there's a new endeavor on her horizon. Easy to spot in the landscape of vacant lots, on the corner of Atkins and Springwood Avenue in Asbury Park, NJ, the new Springwood Center, a project of Interfaith Neighbors opened in July 2012. The center houses the Asbury Park Senior Center, the Affordable Housing Alliance, a business incubator and a new restaurant called Kula Cafe. Always keeping the community in mind, this agile restaurateur has partnered with Interfaith Neighbors to develop Kula Cafe, not only as a casual restaurant, like others she owns, but as a work-study program to place young, urban adults into jobs in the hospitality industry.
"You know it's not like I necessarily fit this community. I've been at meetings where people say there's not enough black representative and my answer is that I'm as black on the inside as anybody. It doesn't matter what you are as long as your intentions are there. We feed people who are hungry. I don't care what you do-or-don't-do. Sure, I don't want you to shoot people and kill them, but I'm going to feed you, and hopefully you're going to take something positive out of that and be a better person.
Initially, we talked with Interfaith Neighbors about doing a pilot program at my restaurant, Langosta Lounge where one day each week could be Interfaith Day and for lunch all of the servers and employees would be students. The public would understand if there was a problem with their order, and would probably be more patient about it. But, it was difficult to do that and make money to successfully sustain a running business. Instead, through Interfaith Neighbors and Youthcorp, we started a program one day a week in the summer, and two days a week in the winter where a van and table are set-up to hand-out food. Hot soup, hot chocolate and coffee in the winter, fruit and salad in the summer. Basically anyone can come up, the van is literally set-up between 2 gang turfs. The one thing about food is it's universal—a gang member, democrat or republican doesn't turn down a free meal and they're thankful that you gave it to them.
We decided that we needed to take this idea further. Although, there's a culinary program run by Brookdale, where over the years I've recruited two dozen employees and right now have several chefs from that program, it's not sufficient. It's great for culinary, but there's no front of the house or budget training for how to run a restaurant. It graduates great kids who have a strong work ethic and that's a primary, fundamental goal, but who's going to teach these young adults to walk-in, dressed appropriately, ask for an application, show social and verbal skills to get noticed, sit down and fill-out the application and answer a long list of questions?
Our application is not standard one. There are a lot of social questions about life experiences, because before I even invest time in them, I need to see who they are. 75% of the time the application questions are left blank. I'm a little more critical as a restaurateur about who we hire, so we're a good case study for someone trying to get a job. Parents don't always help with this and neither do schools.
This is a great opportunity to have this program at the Springwood Center. The restaurant will provide 16-week training programs for young adults ranging in age from 17 to 22. The first part of the Kula Program is in-classroom social skills training. It's not going to be an easy program to get through, because it's not just about walking up to a table and taking an order and making some money. Our hope is that students will go through our program and actually have other opportunities besides working for a restaurant. Maybe they can work for a downtown retailer, or a used car lot on Asbury Avenue, sell windows, or be a contractor. We look at it as the skills necessary to move up the ladder to a higher level of management.
The program and kids need consistent attention. Instead of a chef, an educator will have the skills to help challenging youth. We need someone who is patient and understands what the kids are going through. I want to uplift the community, especially the women. In my eyes, the women are the leaders of what the culture will be. They're the mothers, the teachers, the nurturers. I see a gap between the grandmothers and the generation now in this community. When I see the kids in the garden program we run, they talk about their grandmothers growing this or that, not their mothers. The mothers are for whatever reason holding multiple jobs, or have an alcohol or drug addiction problem. A program like this needs people who are willing to take that challenge on, adding strong structure and balance. I'm not going to be the General Manager of the Cafe, or a full-time employee, since I am already running several restaurants. Instead, I will assist in helping to find the right people to be in the program, teach classes and create a restaurant layout. Right now my staff is helping with a menu. I will support the program in ways that I will have the most impact.
I've always tried to integrate the entire community together. What about the displaced people? We have all these problems on the west side, granted they're not as bad as they were ten years ago, but they exist, and they're not going away because we ignore them. I've had kids come to Langosta Lounge who have never been in a restaurant, never been waited on, served or had an experience where someone gave them something that they didn't have to steal, beg or borrow.
Another program I started was with the Boys and Girls Club teaching kids
how to surf. First it was hard to get five or six kids, now we have a
waiting list of twenty kids. They're surfing, not just hanging out here
and playing around. They're learning, getting exercise, they're active
and doing something white people do and are excelling at it. It's their
beach, in their community.
A great age-old biblical adage—teach a kid to fish or give them a fish. If you want to build a community you have to come together to solve community problems and make change. My goal is for people to make their own work in their own community and we should all be able to walk, live and travel anywhere in our community and feel safe."
Marilyn Schlossbach's story was translated from an audio recording.