Fifteen years ago, Teresa Goines founded Old Skool Cafe a youth-run jazz supper club in San Francisco. On this episode, she tells me about her long-term vision to transform the cycle of incarceration and recidivism, at-risk youth feel trapped in, into a healthy life. Teresa also shares how the training at Old Skool Cafe provides career and life skills, plus employment experience to these young people.
At the end of the show, I ask all my guests the same set of questions to get a sneak preview into their favourite music or books. Here are the links to Teresa's answers. The song she often listens to is ‘You’re Gonna Be Ok’ by Jenn Johnson. One of her favourite books is The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. The music that particularly resonated with her at a specific time in her life is from Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra. Her all-time favourite book that she absolutely recommends is Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.
Hi everyone, and welcome to Narratives of Purpose Podcast, a place where we discuss how ordinary people are making extra ordinary social impact. My name is Claire Murigande, and I am your host on this show. On this episode, my guest is Teresa Goines. Teresa is the founder and director of Old Skool Cafe based in San Francisco. In our conversation today, we'll talk about providing professional skills to at-risk youth. I'm absolutely thrilled to share Teresa's journey with you. Because I've always wanted to tell her story since the day I met her.
Hi, Teresa, welcome. So I know it's quite early for you now in San Francisco. How are you doing today?
Doing well, thank you.
I'm really, really happy to have you on the episode today. What I usually do at the beginning of the show is that I give the listeners a bit of background information on my guests. But today I want to do something differently and tell the story of how we met. That was in September 2009, 11 years ago. I was on vacation for three weeks in the United States. And I had decided to spend the first two weeks on the East Coast. And then last week I decided to visit San Francisco. At that time, I remember that Airbnb was not very popular, at least in Europe, I was coming from Switzerland. And I think it was kind of picking up in the US. I met you through Airbnb because I booked three nights at your place. And finally, I stayed the whole time the whole week, I stayed. I stayed with you because I have to say this, when I arrived there, it felt really like coming home to a distant relative I hadn't seen in a while because I felt so welcomed. And I was also so amazed by the work you were doing. So you were running Old Skool Cafe from your home. I was so impressed even until now, you have received so many awards and recognitions. Before I give you the word, I'd just like to mention this one award a few years ago, you were nominated as a CNN hero, which for me was - Wow. So that's, that's my introduction on how we met, would you like to add something to this?
Oh, I just want to say I'm so thrilled to hear that you felt like you were coming home into a family's house, that's always my heart. And I felt the same when you got here. It was just like we've been sisters for a long time. And I forgot that it had been that long. So you saw it before the restaurant was even open when it was still in my house. So what a special part of the story, you are Claire. So thanks so much for sharing that.
Let's start and dive in on the discussion. So tell me what actually led you to create Old Skool Cafe.
Yeah, so I was a correction officer right out of college, and ended up working with the juvenile division. And it was really there, my degrees in psychology I'd plan to go on to become a psychologist - that was my initial 10 year plan. But as I started working with those young people that were incarcerated, mostly due to gang involvement, gang violence, you know, robbing drug dealing, that kind of thing. And these young people just made their way into my heart. You know, as I heard their stories and how they got to where they were, I was just sort of blown away at how many young people have experienced trauma in their young 14, 15, 16 year old lives than most people experience an entire lifetime. And our solution as a society is to then punish them further by locking them up. And I thought it's because people must not really understand the stories behind how they got here, because clearly, this is not a solution, you know, and they're still young, and they're still, you know, so much time. I mean, so many of us make stupid decisions when we're young, because that's part of the brain development, right? And then if you have all kinds of, you know, examples and forces around you and environmental trauma, you're going to even more likely go down that path, right? So that just sort of changed the trajectory of my life where I thought we've got to do better in our country, and how we treat our children, especially those that have been through a lot. So that was sort of the push for why I wanted to find a solution. And then because so many of these young people were coming from poverty. Many of them felt like that's all they knew for how to make money because if you've already got a felony, everything you see around you is the enterprise in the street, right? And then on top of it, you get arrested and you get a felony, then to try to get a job outside of that economy is very difficult. So they get out of jail and we say, now do good. And don't go back to the only economy and job skills you know. Do what's right, but now we're not gonna hire you because you have a felony, but work legitimately. So, like, even though you have no skills, we're gonna close the door as soon as we see that you've got a record, but do good. And I was like, This is crazy, Right? So that was really where I started thinking, How do I create something that is going to interrupt that cycle that they feel trapped in? That's going to specifically address the economic issue, because many of them are the breadwinners for their family. So if we say, you know, we can't not give them an option, we can't say don't do this, yet, we won't give you any other option to make money legally. Well, of course, they're going to go back, all of us, you know, would have a strong pull towards survival, and doing what we need to do to survive.
From the outside perspective, we don't really know the system, it's a bit difficult to understand, you know, how come someone who is in jail goes back to what they were used to doing. But if you say that the doors are closed, you don't have any other option. So it's kind of like a vicious cycle, right?
Exactly. And it's also in the mind. So, because it's its environment, its habits, its connections are emotional. So a lot of our young people are third generation born into the gang. So their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, right. And so when we say, okay, don't go back to that life, and you can't be around any known gang members. Well, for a lot of them, they're like, that's my entire family. So, as a young person, imagine if I were to say to you, "um, hey, you can't go back to any of those things. And you can't be around any of your family, or any of your friends. So I want you to walk away from everything you know. Family, friends, how you know how to make money, how you know how to connect, your community, and do what's right and do good. Without giving you an alternative, without opening doors..." And, you know, saying, that would be so strong for any of us to walk away from one of those things, let alone kind of our entire community, of connection and support. And so, it's a deeper process of, we have to provide opportunities intentionally. But it also needs to come with community and support and healing and shifting mindsets, addressing hopelessness because some feel like "well, that's not my reality, I will never have that kind of opportunity or life" So it's hard for them to have the drive to go for it. Until that is presented as a real opportunity. So there's just, it's lots of levels.
You know, I understand that, and why did you start a restaurant, because Old Skool Cafe is a restaurant. What gave you that idea?
So I think when I was really frustrated when I was working, I went towards gang prevention. So I was running a gang prevention programme, and funding was cut, and all those young people went downhill as soon as that programme was gone. And I was trying to mentor them on my own as best I could, but many of them were really struggling, they're like, "if you can help me find a job, I won't sell drugs, but things are really bad right now" And that was the only way, they were being you know, kind of, mentored into how to sell drugs, and they saw how much money they can make. And so I literally was driving around trying to help them get a job at a cafe or whatever, and it was just like nothing was available, and nothing was working out. So I started thinking, Okay, I need to create a business where we make some of our own money, where we intentionally hire these young people specifically that people are afraid to hire. Where are most of the jobs in San Francisco? And because we have been a tourist destination, hospitality jobs in the hospitality industry were like 25%, 30% So at that time, I was like, Oh my gosh, that is one of the most transferable job skills every city in the world has a cafe, a restaurant, a hotel. Those types of jobs, and even just working with people is such a transferable skill in any industry. And so I thought, oh my gosh, if I could do a restaurant that actually gave them not just job training, but actual employment experience to put on the resume and the wraparound mentorship to help them keep the job once they get it, it's going to mentor them about how to communicate, how to deal with anger when it comes up and things like that. And then I also had a lot of young people that were super talented when I was an officer, we used to do these talent shows. And I thought, what if we could have a restaurant that's totally run by the youth. And again, they're gonna be making money right away. But also live entertainment every night, that's by our youth as well, that gives them a platform to showcase the gifts that God's given them, and to get attention for the positive things about them, instead of always getting attention for when they're in trouble. And so that was sort of the idea of like, oh, my gosh, we could teach them cooking, serving, hosting, bussing management, business, there were so many different job and career skills we could do in this sort of jazz supper club, venue. So it was really, because I didn't know how hard it would be because I really didn't have restaurant experience. And two: because I thought it would accomplish a lot of these goals I was trying to accomplish for young people,
where did you get the support, specifically funding but also other supports, I mean, venues, space and everything?
So a few things. So I just worked with what I had, you know, I had a little home. So I did all of the training here, I did the pop up events here. I just used the space I was already paying on, you know, and because I didn't have money for another location. And then we would do pop up events at nightclubs, other restaurants on days they were closed. So when venues would be closed, I built relationships with some of the owners, I would say how about if we pop up in your space, for free. That's how I did these bigger events. But I did a lot of events here in my house, all the training, the workshops, the life skills, the mentorship, and then I just scrapped it with volunteers and then I rented out every single piece of my house. Airbnb was a big part of that to help survive. Because there just wasn't initially there wasn't funding and it was mostly all volunteer, scrappy, do what we can with very little and free to show the vision.
So how did you go through the challenges because as you say, it's quite difficult in the beginning of funding. You just mentioned previously that you would use locations in restaurants when they were off. So how did people accept you there?
Yeah, so we would, in the nightclubs, we would do these bigger events for like 250 people. And so what I would do, we would do a big pop up and say this is what a night at the Old Skool Cafe would look like if we had our own restaurant, right. So we kind of create the whole it'd be everybody be dressed fancy, we'd have a whole live show the youth would be cooking and serving with you know, obviously adult chefs and trainers. So to help people kind of walk into it and experience. Because when I would tell people I have this vision for a youth run jazz, supper club all run by young people that have never worked before that are coming out of jail, foster care, trauma, traumatic experiences, it could be like, you realise that restaurants are one of the hardest businesses to run, right? Like nine out of 10 to fail, and you have no restaurant experience or business experience, you have no big celebrity chef or any investors. Like Good luck with that. So I realised I really believed it would work. And I believed that the funds would come and the people I needed would come. So I just felt like I had to show people because they couldn't see what was in my head. So they couldn't imagine it could work. So I just didn't know that I'd have to show them and show them and show them and show them some more for like eight years. It was a very long journey. And so we also had some restaurants that maybe would be closed on a Sunday. So we do a pop up gospel brunch every Sunday and do some type of partnership where they would provide the food and we'd split you know, the proceeds or give them all the proceeds and we keep the tips you know so I was always negotiating to however we could give our young people experience training and make a little money and get the word out was my biggest goal.
So tell us about the curriculum itself. So what is it that the whole programme entails and what do the youth get when they go through your programme?
Yeah, so we start with a 12 week we call it a boot camp 101 And that is just basically you're going to get the overview just a shallow basic understanding and knowledge of how to be a busser, a host, a server, dishwasher (that's their favourite) a prep cook and cooking on the line. So that's sort of the the workforce development piece. So just learning basically all the operations which we call front of the house, which is the service side and back of the house, which is in the kitchen. So we cross train them. And then the other piece of the curriculum is life skills. So again, remember how I said, it's one thing they need to at least they need to be able to get hired, right, you've got to get the job. But if you haven't been mentored into what we call "code switch", to shift into professional behaviour, you know, the way we talk, the way we interact. You might with your friends or family at home, decide to go off, and scream at them when you're mad. in a professional environment. We don't, we don't recommend that. And so we try to do workshops, but also on the job constant training of what does that mean to be professional? Why do you need to wear a uniform? Why do you need to not swear? Why is it important? These things that you practice, being able to dress up, hold yourself, interact, communicate differently, when you're angry, where you're going to actually move the needle forward in a positive direction versus losing your job. And we do weekly life skills that are addressing communication, education, finance, kind of the whole gamut. Then we have a life coach, they get a one on one coach that meets with them weekly. And that helps them make a goal plan for their life, where do they want to go, if they have dropped out of school, they help them get re-enrolled back in school, we make that a requirement. So they actually can't stay in our programme if they've dropped out and are not working towards graduating high school or getting a GED. And so with those kinds of three pronged approaches, we try to give a holistic opportunity to move forward and then they can stay up to two years. So they graduate that one-on-one 12 weeks, then we have levels all the way up through level six. If they choose to stay up to two years and the last level. So there's leadership built in there. They're going to be learning deeper skills along the way. And then the last part is an externship. So we have several partners, specifically a lot of restaurant partners that are willing to let them come on for an “externship”. So they can start to learn and get ready to transition into the workforce without as much support around.
And what has been the impact so far in the community. When I visited you, it was 11 years ago. And since then, until today, what has been the impact on the community?
Yeah, I'm, I'm really, I'm so grateful that first of all, that we're still here. And that's a large part of the community has really looked out for us and loved us well. And so we've got a chance to be an anchor in the community, we're in the middle of a harder spot, like that's been known for violence and a lot of brokenness in that area. So it's really beautiful and powerful to watch the youth being the leaders of that positive change, because these are young people, a lot of those that are hanging out outside have known, you know, seen out in the streets and watching them be those agents of change and leading the way in their own communities really beautiful and powerful. So it's been hard. We don't have tons of walk-in traffic, it's been more of a destination place, or even local residents have maybe avoided that area, because of what it's been known for. And so we've been trying to stick there for a long time to say, "hey, we want this to become a place that is safe, that is full of beauty and life and hope, for all the community to come." And so that's definitely when you're trying to work on those bigger changes, that takes time. So we definitely would love to see our numbers and guests coming. But it took time to build that.
And how has the COVID pandemic affected your activities? Because you're in the service industry, I would say, and I think those are the people that have been hit harder. How have you been making it through these past few months? Almost one year?
Yes, I know. It's crazy. It's definitely been really challenging. I'm so grateful, again, for our community of support for our donors. So if we're a full nonprofit so I'm able to fundraise. We have a diversified structure. So we make some of our budget income coming through the restaurant, through catering events, private events, and then we fundraise for the rest. So this has meant mostly fundraising. Because obviously we lost all our catering events, our private events, the restaurant, all of that for the longest time, we did get to be outside for a bit. And we have started third party, and delivery, which we didn't do before, and much more curbside pickup. It has cut our earned revenue down to very small margins. But it has helped us be creative and think outside the box, we didn't have outdoor seating or dining before - now we do. But in general it helped us to grow in other areas that we may not have otherwise. So, you know, I'm grateful that we are open, donors have stepped up to help cover the pieces that we've lost due to the business closure. But the fact that we're able to still, because we're an essential business, we're able to keep operating, means that our youth are able to still come and connect with that community of support, the Old Skool family, still make money, still get all of those services. So I feel like we're here for a time like this. And I'm just super grateful.
It's really great to hear. Yeah, I wanted to know, now you're speaking more about the business and how COVID has affected the business. But for the youth themselves, you know, what do you see? What do you observe right now in the community? How is that affecting them?
Yeah, it's been so hard on them, you know, they are sick of Zoom. They are over that. They're definitely some of my young men, it's sweet when I'd like sometimes we wouldn't have enough drive up customers. And so I would come just so they could have somebody to interact with and practice with. And one of my young men, Oh, bless his heart, he just needed to talk. So it's asking how's your week been? And he was like, "Oh, we're so sick of being in the house and lonely. And we don't see anybody" and so precious just to get to sit in my car and just let him talk and connect. And so for them, it's definitely isolating. They're hungry for connection. A lot of them are like, I'm going to go to school from now on, I will appreciate it. So it's hard on them. But I'm really grateful that we get to be there to listen and connect with them still.
So yeah, looking forward, what are the plans for Old Skool Cafe now? I mean, what do you intend to do? Grow, diversify even more?
I was thinking maybe Old Skool Switzerland, what do you think?
You want to branch out?
Yes, so the vision for the beginning has always been to see Old Skool or Old Skool like models, in many, many more cities, to help us start to go on a different paths as we talk about, you know, changes and social justice, instead of continuing to build more jails and prisons for our children, how about if we invest that money into a therapeutic approach to helping them heal, and be empowered, know that they're valuable loved, and they're created for great purpose. And not live out this lie that this is who they are. And all that's ahead of them. So the hope is that we've been working on fine tuning and proving the model all these years. So really, I'm excited to see us shift as a country, to many more cities to invest in economic, wraparound support. All of these areas that take to turn around that recidivism, and that whole kind of mindset of locking our kids up. When really, so much of that I would say, you know, 90% of those behaviours can be turned around.
Do you have any highlights that you'd like to share in the past 12, 14 years? One special story or something that you never forget?
I mean, there's, there's so many, so it's always hard, but, you know, just watching, there's several of our young people that have gone on to college. And one of our first, she's our first college graduate also got her master's from USC, and then others that have gone on to careers. One young man, he really wanted to have his own business, because we have a lot of brilliant, brilliant young people with creative ideas. And he stayed with us for nine months but was always hungry to learn and was really ready to change because he just gotten out of jail when it came to us and wanted to learn marketing from me - anytime I was having a meeting, he would like say "Can I listen in?" and he was just such a sponge, right? He went on to work and worked in a restaurant and became the bartender saved, save, save, saved, and he had always wanted to start his own barber shop when he was at Old Skool. And he would talk about it. He even had these ideas for things he could create with the combs. And, he was just working super hard. So he opened his own barber shop and has several barbers working for him. His business is doing really well. Most of his days are pretty packed with clients. And so just watching, again, he's a perfect example of now we could have just continued to invest more money into locking him up,, and then and then what? Just continue that cycle? As opposed to flourishing and building in and sowing into those dreams and the truth about his passion, his abilities, and now he's a successful entrepreneur that's creating jobs for other people. And he's a father, all those things. He's out of jail - That's a past lift to him now what it's about, right?
Yes, absolutely. Yeah. It's a really beautiful story. Thanks for sharing that. So let's say there are some people who are listening, and they'd like to support you. How can they do that?
Sure. So you can go straight to our website, and Old Skool Cafe is spelled with a K. So oldskoolcafe.org And you just click the donate button.
Now to conclude the episode. What I usually do, I have a very short questionnaire, three short questions to have a small preview into either your playlists for your library. So are you ready?
Number one, what song are you listening to non stop these days? Or what book are you reading right now?
Okay. So I would just give a caveat that it's probably not nonstop just because I've been in a kind of a season of grant writing and fundraising end of the year, so I tend to have things more quiet because I have to write and think, but one of my favourite songs is "you're gonna be okay" by Jen Johnson. So that would be a song, and then as far as books, it's "The Circle Maker" by Mark Batterson.
Number two, do you have a particular song or artist or band that has resonated with you at a specific time in your life?
So I would say, Louis Armstrong is one of my favourites. I have several but Louie Armstrong and Frank Sinatra. It's just hard to hear their music and not smile. I just love it. Obviously Old Skool right? So I kind of like that era already. But Louie Armstrong has a song called Smile. And it talks about "smile, even when your heart's breaking smile" and hearing his...
I can't hear it and not feel like "oh, you know", it just lifts my spirits.
Now I understand why you had this whole concept of Old Skool Cafe where it comes from. Third and final question. What is your all time favourite album or a book that you would recommend?
One of my all time favourite books is "Redeeming Love" by Francine Rivers.
Why is that one of your all time favourites?
There's also "The Mark of the Lion'' series. I like her. It's just such a story of redemption and unconditional love that somebody gave me in a time that was just really inspiring and encouraging.
We're at the end of the show. Would you like to add a final word?
Well, I just think what you're doing is awesome. Claire, I'm, I'm thrilled to be a part of it. So thank you for having me on today. And I hope that this will be encouraging for other people too. If you have a vision or something in your heart, they feel like God's put in there. You don't have to know all the pieces to just step out and start trying because I certainly didn't. It's been a long journey. But I've learned along the way and it's the hardest thing I've ever done, but definitely the most worthwhile.
Oh, thank you. Well, on that note, thank you so much for spending part of your morning with me today. And hopefully we'll meet again soon.
I hope so. You're welcome. Anytime, Claire. We'd love to have you back.
Thank you, Teresa. Bye.
Take care. Bye bye
That was episode three. A Conversation with Teresa Goines. Teresa is such an inspiration. She's also a wonderful example of perseverance and leadership in creating a positive impact in the local community with her vision of providing opportunities for youth who are at risk. Thank you for tuning in today and listening to this episode. I really appreciate you taking the time. You will find all relevant information on this episode on the podcast page. Here is a reference narratives-of-purpose.podcast page.io. This was the last episode of 2020. I look forward to more episodes and new guests in 2021. Until then, take care of yourselves stay well and stay inspired