Stories That Have Power, Educate and Heal: Curt’s Cafe Opens a Dialogue With the Community

Curts Cafe Better Makers

Curt’s Café is a workforce training program whose mission is to improve the outcomes of young adults living in at-risk situations through work and life skills training. Curt’s opened its first café in Evanston in 2012. In 2019, a second café opened in Highland Park.

curt's cafe better makers


In 2021 Curt’s Cafe will present a variety of programs in an effort to share our stories and engage in open dialogue with the community. On April 22, Curt’s will host Story Catchers Theatre for a 30 minute zoom performance – Their Voices. Their Stories.  Story Catchers works with youth in the juvenile justice system to teach them how to tell their story as a means to help confront and work through their trauma. This transformative storytelling not only impacts their lives, but allows students to develop skills to become mentors to other youth and influencers in their own communities. 

Curt’s students share similar experiences as those from Storycatchers Theatre. We hope this presentation provides some understanding of those that Curt’s serve. Registration is free, thanks to our event sponsor, Compass Evanston. Registration is now open at

Since September, Curt’s Café has offered thursday dinner & dialogue as an opportunity to take home meals, gather with friends and engage in meaningful conversation. Each meal comes with prewritten dialogue questions that are answered by our students.  Dinner & Dialogue meals will be available for this event, but they must be ordered by Tuesday, April 20 at 2pm. Visit online at for details. 

I couldn’t be happier to support an organization like Curt’s because it changes the trajectory of young people’s lives toward success by providing work and life skills. The successful outcomes speak for themselves.” Robyn Gabel, State Representative

curt's cafe

Our newest program, Curt’s Social Justice Film Group for engaging and thought-provoking conversation, will be held the first Wednesday of the month, beginning on May 5 with The Hate U Give. Highland Park resident, Joan Marks will lead the zoom discussions. Details may be found at

The pandemic has made 2020 a year of great pain and loss. It also made it a year of great transitioning and adapting. Curt’s café is no exception. 

In March, both cafés closed for regular business. As the pandemic unfolded and job placement became difficult, Curt’s made the decision to keep students on longer so they could continue to find success. A “Covid workforce training program” was implemented that consisted of distributing food boxes, Covid meals, PPE kits, shelter meals and more. This allowed our students to not only provide a needed service, but to experience what it feels like to “give back” to their community.

Prior to the pandemic, the sales at the cafés have covered approximately 50% of the costs of running the student program, while the other 50% comes from grants, donations, events and sponsors.  With café sales at virtually zero since early spring, it was imperative to keep both students and staff working and engaged to continue our mission and program. 

Last October, Curt’s held its first virtual gala, hosted by Val Warner (ABC 7’s Windy City Live) with special guest speaker, Jahmal Cole (My Block My Hood My City). The gala beautifully told the Curt’s story, highlighting the people who make the program work, and some of the students it has worked for. The event was a huge success thanks to our  donors and generous sponsors. Some of the event sponsors were: Allie Payne, Beth Lewis Team, Brett Anthony Foods, @properties Highland Park, First Bank of Highland Park, Food For Thought Catering, Howard Orloff imports and more. 

A 2020 Story of Hope and Triumph

Alesia was abandoned at age 4 and placed in Florida’s foster care system. At age 17, while still part of the foster care system, she had a child of her own who was later removed and placed in the child’s grandmother’s custody. Later that year, Alesia. moved by herself to Chicago and became housing insecure. At 18, she was referred to Curt’s by a previous student. As Alesia entered the program, she began working with our social service provider and later a therapist to address her childhood trauma. As her self-esteem grew, Alesia proved her strong work ethic and was often asked to work the café register and close up at the end of the day. After graduation, she enrolled in our CEO program, a partnership with the Moran Center and Evanston Youth Job Center. Participants in the two-year program earn minimum wage while they increase their employment and life skills. After the program she hopes to continue to develop her artistic and entrepreneurial skills.

“We are proud to support Curt’s because we know every penny goes toward making the world a more just and loving place by creating a space where youth who have challenges can learn and thrive.” Dr. Audrey French, Board of Directors, Curt’s Cafe

In 9 years, Curt’s has graduated over 450 students, young men and women 15 through 24 years old, most living in poverty with limited educational and job prospects and very few support networks. Curt’s students are motivated to succeed.  While many of the students have a history of legal issues, Curt’s has maintained a 4% recidivism rate; national average is 85%.

Alesia took advantage of the opportunities Curt’s offers and with your support, Curt’s can give opportunities to more young men and women who need the same type of support. 

Curt’s believes in young adults like Alesia. Your support will be the reason next year another student be given a chance to succeed. 

Ways to get involved

Dinner & Dialogue: each weekly meal comes with engaging questions from our students to dialogue with at your table (or over zoom).

Ways to Give:

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