Cafe Momentum is looking for a permanent space for its restaurant and community center.By Kristine Sorensen

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Pittsburgh is the first city in the U.S. chosen for Cafe Momentum, an expansion of a program that helps kids getting out of the juvenile justice system.

The program kicked off its efforts with a pop-up dinner at the Union Trust building in downtown Pittsburgh on Tuesday. The servers at the elegant dinner and the chefs in the kitchen look like pros, but most of them learned this in just three days of training.

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(Photo Credit: KDKA)

Trae is one of the young people in this post-release program for young men and women coming out of juvenile facilities. He’s been serving time for attempted homicide and aggravated assault. He said this is the start of a new life for him.

“I hope this is just the beginning. I hope it gives me everything I’m feeling right now for the future,” he said.

Chad Houser founded Cafe Momentum in Dallas when he worked with kids like Trae and saw how hard it is for them to get a job with a criminal record, on top of the pre-existing challenges.

“Just thinking about his story and realizing he’s going to go back to the same house, same street, same neighborhood, same school, all of the things that pushed him on a path to detention — none of that’s changed while he was away,” Houser said.

Cafe Momentum is a 12-month paid internship that trains kids in fine dining skills, in the front and back end of a restaurant, but it also teaches social and professional skills and ensures the kids have stability, including housing, food and a high school diploma.

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The nonprofit Stand Together Foundation donated $1.9 million last fall to help bring Cafe Momentum to Pittsburgh and other cities across the country.

The program hopes to open in every NFL city, and Pittsburgh and Nashville are the first for the expansion.

Steeler Zach Banner said these kids need our help.

“Supporting them, continuing to show support but advocating for something much bigger — I think that can change kids’ lives,” Banner said.

Kenzo Sohoue graduated from the program and now trains other kids. He said it’s about giving them the resources to succeed and believing they can do it.

“Take the time to understand that a lot of youth want to do good, but they just don’t know how to get there,” Sohoue said.

Now many more people will see that with the new Cafe Momentum, which is looking for a permanent space for its restaurant and community center.

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Click here to learn more about other programs in the Pittsburgh area.

Kristine Sorensen