Full City Challenge

Full City spotlight: This Brewerytown coffee shop helps former foster kids succeed

The Monkey & The Elephant keeps young adults off the streets and helps set them up for productive careers.

DJ Cunningham (right) works at The Monkey & The Elephant as part of the program for people who've aged out of foster care

DJ Cunningham (right) works at The Monkey & The Elephant as part of the program for people who've aged out of foster care

Michaela Winberg / Billy Penn
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A small Brewerytown coffee shop has developed a successful program to help people find employment after aging out of the foster care system.

It’s an innovative approach to helping fix the societal problems that plague this city — and we’re showcasing it here as inspiration to develop more. Coming up with new solutions to Philly’s pervasive hunger and poverty is what we’re asking people to do with the Full City Challenge.

The Challenge, a collaboration between Billy Penn and the Economy League, offers a $5,000 microgrant and tens of thousands of dollars worth of strategic advice. Through Jan. 24, we’re accepting short proposals for initiatives, campaigns, social enterprises, technology platforms and other new collaborations that use food, culinary or agricultural-based solutions to address the underlying causes of hunger and poverty that affect too many residents.

There’s a lot of this kind of work already going on, both in Philly and around the country. Each week until the Full City application deadline, we’ll showcase a different program — perhaps it’ll give you an idea to submit, or start talking about one to coworkers or colleagues.

We’ve already highlighted programs across the country like FareStart and FoodMaven.

Up next: The Monkey & The Elephant.

What

The Monkey & The Elephant is a storefront coffee shop in Brewerytown that provides employment, supportive services and skill-building workshops to people who’ve come in contact with the foster care system.

Where

Right here in Philly at 2831 West Girard Ave., part of a fast-developing retail corridor along a strip that until recently was treated like a speed ramp to the highway.

Who

The company was founded back in 2012 by Lisa Miccolis, a native of Wayne, Pa. — but the idea looked a lot different back then.

Due to limited funding, Miccolis started with pop-up cafes in South Philly, Kensington and other quickly-developing neighborhoods. She would sell regular drip coffee, employing one person at a time who recently aged out of foster care.

Three years later, Miccolis was able to secure funding from private investors, and found a great storefront on Girard near 29th Street. Now that the store is up and running smoothly, it employs multiple former foster kids at any given time.

Singage at The Monkey & The Elephant relay its mission to customers.

Singage at The Monkey & The Elephant relay its mission to customers.

Michaela Winberg / Billy Penn

How

The Monkey & The Elephant’s model has gone through a few different iterations as it has grown in size. Right now, Miccolis has the capacity to host four program employees on a rolling basis, each for a year at a time.

The program includes 30 hours per week of regular work in the cafe, plus a half-day of skill-building workshops. Every Monday the cafe closes early, and a manager runs classes on career-related topics like professionalism, communication and teamwork.

Miccolis partnered with YVLifeSet, a local orgazniation that connects her with foster care alum to hire, and then offers case management support to the participants once they join the team. This has been a huge help, Miccolis said. Before the partnership, she tried to provide case support on her own — not easy while also running day-to-day operations of a small business.

“I took somebody [to get help] who was suicidal, we got somebody out of a domestic violence situation,” Miccolis said. “We’ve had people had immense loss, and kind of help them work through that while not losing their job.”

Of the young adults who’ve graduated from her program, Miccolis is still in touch with about half. Among those she’s still in communication with, she said, there’s a 100 percent post-program employment rate. With the rest, of course, she isn’t sure whether they’re employed.

Takeaways

The Monkey + The Elephant’s programming has shown success in helping foster care youth build their lives once they age out of the system — but it operates on a very small scale. To expand this program in Philly, we’d need:

  • More private funding, to be able to hire and provide support for more foster care alum
  • Interest from investors, who might expand the cafe to additional locations
  • Interest from other private business owners or coffee shop operators, who could study M&E and incorporate a similar model

Want some more? Explore other Full City Challenge stories.

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