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Kidsburgh: Café Momentum's Pittsburgh location gives opportunities to teens in justice system

Kidsburgh: A look at Café Momentum Pittsburgh
Kidsburgh: A look at Café Momentum Pittsburgh 03:05

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - We've heard a lot about the uptick in violence among young people in the Pittsburgh region recently, including shootings and fights in all kinds of neighborhoods.

A unique program that is only the second in the country after Dallas just started to help teenagers in the justice system turn around their lives one meal at a time.

One step inside Café Momentum in Downtown Pittsburgh, and you can't help but be impressed with the sophisticated décor, delicious food, festive atmosphere and the friendly staff.

You'd never know the young people working here are part of a program for kids in the justice system.

KDKA-TV's Kristine Sorensen visited the restaurant one evening during dinner service to see how it works.  She talked with one of the young people in the program, Faith from McKeesport.  She asked her, "What's it like to get in the kitchen and learn those skills?"  Faith replied with a big smile, "Hot. Really hot."

Faith always wanted to be a chef and now does online school in the morning so she can spend most of her day here. She's among the first group of 18 area teenagers in the 12-month paid internship learning the restaurant industry.  

At first, it wasn't her choice to come here after she got in trouble for fighting at school.

"I got thrown out of school, and I went through a lot, but then I learned how to turn myself around and I'm here," she said proudly.

Café Momentum Founder Chad Houser says the program is much more than restaurant training. "That's a bandaid on a waterfall," he told Kristine Sorensen. "When you start to look into the root of where the young people are coming from, what their life circumstances are, you understand that it's an ecosystem of support that has to be built around them."

The program offers 24-7 support in all aspects of their lives, including school, mental health, dealing with trauma, finances, family and future careers.

Tristyn Williams benefited from those supports in the program in Dallas and now helps spread the word.  

"I was able to graduate high school when I was 16 years old, which was definitely a huge accomplishment for me and just my family, period, because a lot of them didn't really get to graduate high school because most of us are young mothers," she said. 

The students learn to work the front of the restaurant, how to cook and bake, prepare a plate and be a server.

Jamar from the Hill District loves everything about the program, coming here after getting in trouble with the law.

He tells Sorensen he's learned that he was "not actually being my potential and getting in trouble. But I'm kind of glad I had to take that route to find out who I am as a person. I found out I'm meant to be someone better. I found that with this program."

Only a few months at Café Momentum is already making a difference.

Sorensen asked Jamar, "Do you think it's going to change the direction of your life?"  He replied, "Absolutely. It already has.  I love being at Café Momentum.  It's like my second home. It's definitely changed who I am as a person."

Faith said, "They've already been starting me in the right direction, and I just really love it here."

Eighty to 100 teenagers will go through the 12-month program over a year.

It wouldn't be possible without the support of the Mellon Foundation, Allegheny Foundation, Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, the Piatt family, the Stand Together Foundation, several Steelers who got behind it and many more who are making it financially possible.

The restaurant is open for dinner Wednesdays through Sundays.

You can learn more at Café Momentum's website and find more stories like this at

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