Learning café offers opportunities for at-risk youth

Chilynn, 17, and Keyle, 16, put on their aprons June 27 at Pink Leaf Caf
Chilynn, 17, and Keyle, 16, put on their aprons June 27 at Pink Leaf Caf

Driven by passion for child welfare and a degree in psychology, one Ball State alumna is determined to make a difference.


Pink Leaf Café owner

and a Ball State alumna

Kimberly Howe, founder of Pink Leaf: A Learning Café and CEO of Howe LLC, opened the learning institution in Spring 2014 after recognizing a need in the Muncie community.

“Our entire purpose is to employ youth and teach them all sorts of skills,” Howe said. “We realize it’s very hard to learn budgeting if you don’t have a paycheck, so the entire purpose of the café is to take life skills and put them into practice.”

Located in the Southway Centre at 3725 S. Madison St., everything from the menu to the name to the location is youth-driven.

Right on the MITS line, Howe said the location was picked for that reason.

“The vast majority of the folks we interact with don’t have cars, so it was really important for us to be in a place that was easily accessible,” she said.

The restaurant, which offers daily lunch specials and a rotating, in-season menu is operated by local at-risk youth. Classes are offered in the evening four days a week, and the youth also spend time off site.

“We go to the [Indianapolis Museum of Art], the opera and the ballet,” Howe said. “We are trying to give them cultural events to experience because that’s what you talk about in an interview. We try to expand their educational experience as much as possible. Not just life skills, not just culinary arts, but also in art, in music and theater.”

Howe is passionate about “youth in transition” and said the vision of Pink Leaf is to offer opportunities and learning experiences for youth who would otherwise not have a chance.

Chilynn, 17, and Keyle, 16, put on their aprons June 27 at Pink Leaf Café. The store helps at-risk youth learn life skills. DN PHOTO BREANNA DAUGHERTY

Chilynn, 17, moved in March from Anderson, Ind., to Muncie to participate in the program.

She said she learned about the program from her probation officer after being released from juvenile detention.

“It’s a great program,” she said. “I’ve grown from myself and what I’ve been doing in the past. They show us things that ... some kids don’t get to learn. And that’s helped me in the long run.”

Chilynn’s roles at the café vary depending on the day, but she said she feels that the skills she learns will help her find a job in the future.

“This program gives me something to do so I won’t be doing the things I used to,” she said. “They give us support. They support us. It’s awesome.”

The café brings in professionals from the community to teach classes for skills in résumé writing, budgeting, cooking, nutrition management and sewing. Howe said 85 percent of those who teach classes do so on a volunteer basis.

“We want to be that bridge where we are giving youth, who maybe have never had a job before, an opportunity to learn those soft skills in a safe environment,” she said. “Our hope is that youth will never stay with us longer than six months. Our vision is to empower them.”

The National Collaboration for Youth published a study in 2011 on the impact of youth development programs on student academic achievement.

According to the study, youth who participate in developmental organizations, such as Across Ages, the Boys and Girls Club Education Enhancement Project and the Teen Outreach Program, held higher GPAs and had a significantly improved sense of well-being, outlook on school and their futures.

The café employs at-risk youth, ages 16 to 21, year-round. The amount of youth involved changes depending on the time of year. Howe said they’re busier during the summer because school is not in session. During the academic year, they function essentially as an after-school program.

“We never give them handouts — we always give a leg up,” Howe said. “We believe there is more dignity in learning skills and being paid for a job well done rather than just receiving a handout.”

Items sit on display at Pink Leaf Café in Muncie. The learning café is open Tuesdays through Fridays at 3725 S. Madison St. DN PHOTO BREANNA DAUGHTERY

Keyle, 16, also learned about the program from her probation officer and hopes to attend a culinary arts school once she graduates from high school.

She started the program March 10 and said she has grown since she first arrived.

“I was very disrespectful in the way I presented myself,” she said, recalling her first catering experience with Pink Leaf. “But now, I present myself as a respectful young lady who knows what she’s doing.”

For Chilynn and Keyle, Pink Leaf has become a safe-environment for them to have a second chance.

“They brought us together and they brought us a little family that we can never pull away from,” Keyle said. 


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