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Prodigy Coffee House Gives Young Adults Real World Work Experience

By Kelly Werthmann

DENVER (CBS4)- One coffee house in Denver is not only teaching young adults how to connect with people but teaching them work experience. To Alonzo Kimble, a cup of Joe is really a cup of joy.

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"I'm still working on my latte art," he said with a little laugh. "I'll get there."

Every latte he handcrafts is done in his happy place – Prodigy Coffee House.

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"My coworkers and customers make me even more happier," Kimble said with a big smile.

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Alonzo Kimble (credit: CBS)

It's a job he never imagined he'd love, let alone have. The 20-year-old barista has long struggled with dyslexia, thus his self-esteem, until he discovered Prodigy.

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"Prodigy helped me with my confidence a lot," he told CBS4's Kelly Werthmann. "They understand that I struggle, so they help me a lot and that's amazing and I love it."

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Steph Frances (credit: CBS)

Steph Frances founded Prodigy Coffee House in 2016 with a mission to help provide work experience for young adults in northeast Denver. The coffee house employs 18 to 24-year-olds, particularly those who have had trouble finding or keeping jobs, or maybe have dropped out of school.

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"Our model is based on cultivating something that's really good that we know is in there," she explained. "Just because you haven't gotten straight As in school doesn't mean you don't want to learn or work. So, come in here. It's our job to find out what is going to activate and motivate you."

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More than making lattes and mochas, the apprenticeship program teaches baristas how to connect with people and build customer service skills.

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"You're not just coming in and punching a time card," Frances said. "You have to commit not only to working and doing the basic duties, but to growing and continually pushing yourself to be a leader in your community."

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Frances said Kimble is a perfect example of how the program empowers young adults.

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"He came into our program a year ago with very little confidence," she said. "Now he's a trainer for our other baristas, he's a manager on duty, and he's been just one of those people who brings in such a spirit for caring for others. We got to take him to Los Angeles this summer and he represented Prodigy in a conference about hope. It's such a gift to get to work with him."

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Since Prodigy Coffee House opened, several young adults have graduated from the apprenticeship and now have long-term careers.

"It must make you feel so proud to see these young people thriving," Werthmann said, looking at photos with Frances of previous apprentices.

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"Absolutely," Frances replied. "It's the honor of my life to get to do this work."

Kimble is building his successful future at the coffee house and said he's hopeful others will make Prodigy their happy place, too.

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"Once you start working here, we're a family," he said. "Your voice will be heard. We'll never judge you and we'll love you like family."

Prodigy Coffee House is accepting applications, and has a pre-apprenticeship training in late January.

LINK: Prodigy Coffee House

Kelly Werthmann joined the CBS4 team as the morning reporter in 2012. After serving as weekend morning anchor, Kelly is now Covering Colorado First for CBS4 News at 10. Connect with Kelly on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @KellyCBS4.

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