How did you start The Monkey & The Elephant, what was your inspiration?
After finishing college I was not sure what I wanted to do with my life, as I think a lot of people are. During that search, I started working in coffee shops, which I really enjoyed, I spent some time working with young adults which I really enjoyed as well, and I also spent some time in South Africa. While I was in South Africa, I met a young man who was 16 at the time and 14 when he left his family in search of a better future for himself. He was receiving housing, school, clothing food; basic needs of a 16 year old. I stayed in touch with him after I came back to the U.S. and a couple years later he turned 18 and those basic needs were gone. He didn’t get the opportunity to finish school, he no longer had a stable place to live and he really struggled. So I just listened from afar and supported him the best that I could as he worked to keep his head up,put one foot in front of the other and move forward towards the dreams that he had. Soon thereafter, I was reflecting on my experiences and the things that bring me joy. I realized that there was an opportunity to leverage the natural community of a coffee shop as a place to learn some basic job skills and start to put the pieces together for young adults who have a gap in services between foster care and adulthood.
What kind of services do you offer these young adults?
The whole thing is considered a transitional employment program, so the shifts at the shop are just as much a part of the program as the professional development sessions that we do. In the professional development sessions it ranges from concrete or work related professional skills to life skills and personal development for somebody to be successful long term. For example, a concrete skill would be putting together your resume or doing a strength inventory so you know how to speak to your strengths when you’re in an interview. Or doing informational interviews, so that’s both practicing your interview skills but also talking to people who are in a career that you’re considering and want to learn more about. It’s also setting up a network so they can see who they know and actually use that person as a resource or guidance as they put the pieces of their life together. There are also lessons around giving and receiving feedback, budgeting, healthy relationships, goal setting, and more. There’s a neighborhood walk exercise where they walk around two different neighborhoods, one that they’re familiar with and one that they’re not and just kind of notice what looks or feels different and reflect on that experience. There are a group of exercises that are meant to expand their world view and push them out of their comfort zone and into new experiences. After each lesson, experience or exercise there is space for them to reflect and consider what they learned as they continue to explore about career and life opportunities.
What do you think is the importance of community in your business?
I think coffee shops are community spaces. I think people who don’t frequent coffee shops don’t necessarily have that experience. Many of our customers are regulars. My staff will get to know them as their lives change, a new job, a new kid; they build connections, which we’ve seen to be really powerful. And our customers get to know each other or they already know each other and this becomes a meeting place for them to connect. I think that the art by local artists that we display and the local goods we sell allow us to extend our reach into the greater community and provides people with new ways to engage in and share in our community.
What kinds of things can people do at your space?
We have an upstairs area that can be reserved for meetings, the backyard can be used for the same thing. We do have people right now who reserve space for gatherings or parties. Outside of the space we also do catering so that’s a neat way to support the organization and also get to enjoy our delicious baked goods.
Is there anything that people can do to support you?
We don’t have specific volunteer opportunities because it’s really about these young adults having a chance to practice working building the skills to be a reliable and strong employee. In order to do that we need customers, we also need people on a donation level so that we can provide programming and have the staff that we need to ensure a positive customer experience and positive and impact experience for our program employees.. So really it’s supporting us by coming into the shop, ordering catering, making a donation or spreading the word about the organization to people in and around Philadelphia.