Stories of Service: Partnership
Let me tell you a story…
Once upon a time on Bed Stuy’s streets,
Young men were in full force for respect,
power and money’s lure.
In the struggle’s morn,
Reconnect Café was born so that
Young men might wage peace
instead of war.
Whatever you want to call it,
we grind an alternative in a city of crime,
Working to change lives,
one cup at a time*.
*written by Father Jim and the young men of the Reconnect project on a wall of the CaféThis is no fairy tale.
It’s a real life story begun in 1997 when Rev Jim O’Shea, a Passionist Priest moved into the neighborhood of St. Montserrat’s Church and invited young men to exchange hanging out on the corner for a basketball court. Slowly, friendships were formed and Father Jim’s vision to create an alternative to the violence of a drug economy was born. It took perseverance and hard work but in 2010, with the help of his friends who had an attitude for change and some start up money, a storefront was rented and renovated. This was the beginning of a local business where young men who were disconnected from hope and a way to a better life learned how to work using their gifts and talents and not merely their wits. Replacing the immediate payoff of the street, Father Jim’s model was long term… based on relationship building marked by consistent caring and a commitment to applying business standards to this fledgling enterprise.On July 29, 2013, the fruits of their labor paid off. The Reconnect Café opened for business staffed and managed by young men who lived in the neighborhood. Efrain, one of the first to play basketball became the Cafe’s manager and in the past three years, more than thirty-five young men have been engaged. Although Father Jim had some background in finance, his heart and passion are wedded to community development and making dreams come true. But, the Café needed someone to train its employees in dealing with customers, in putting into place business protocols in all aspects of sales and record keeping. Reconnect needed someone to monitor the fiscal reality of this rapidly growing and expanding operation.
“I met Father Jim at an IVC fundraiser and after listening to him describe his round the clock schedule and what he was in desperate need of at the time, I realized I could be of real help. For a number of years, I ran a successful retail business in New Jersey and as an IVC volunteer who was looking to grow in my service, Reconnect offered me an opportunity I couldn’t resist.” In the past three months, Ron has not only embraced the challenge but has worked tirelessly setting up and overseeing all the back office responsibilities for the Café, and Reconnect‘s newest undertakings of a bakery and graphic printing studio. Father Jim describes Ron’s work as transformative, making a difference in all areas of this life changing adventure.According to statistics highlighted on their website, Bedford Stuyvesant is a place where 48% of children live under the poverty line and is home to thousands of dis-connected youth. Reconnect‘s goals in numbers is to build and grow five new businesses in the next five – seven years partnering with existing businesses in the area to engage hundreds of young people, many of whom may be working for the first time. “Along with work and learning, we are dedicated to being members of the community who struggle for justice and fairness for all of us. We re-connect to the idea that each of our lives is important and that, despite the past, we find a better way forward.” Reconnect is a life changing idea. It is an opportunity for a good cup of fair trade coffee, a place to connect with one another; and ultimately, an attitude of hope, peace and promise. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop in and experience this special place for yourself. The Café is located at 139 Tompkins Ave. Or learn more at any time by visiting the Reconnect website.
Love consists in sharing what one has
and what one is
with those one loves.
Love ought to show itself in deeds
more than in words.
– St. Ignatius of Loyola