During a trip to South Africa in 2008, Lisa Miccolis encountered a Zimbabwean refugee who had aged out of eligibility for governmental support. He was forced to put his education on hold and return to Zimbabwe with no housing, no work and no family to help him.
Back home in 2011, Miccolis found a similar situation in Philadelphia: Each year, around 250 youth age out of Philly’s foster care system and are left with little to no support.
“There is nothing for these guys,” said Miccolis when we first wrote about her in 2015. “It is easier for a young man who has a drug and alcohol problem to get services than for a young man who doesn’t.”
Miccolis took an unusual approach to solving this problem. In 2014, she opened The Monkey & The Elephant, a coffee shop staffed by baristas who have all recently left foster care. (The name, she has said, comes from code she and her Zimbabwean friend used to identify each other over the phone; his favorite animal is an elephant, and hers a monkey.)
Miccolis uses the nonprofit cafe to teach related job skills—speaking with customers, networking and handling money. Training sessions also include budgeting classes, conflict management and apartment hunting—what Miccolis calls “soft and hard skills.”
Now, two years after The Monkey & The Elephant opened its first brick and mortar location in Brewerytown, Miccolis is expanding. The shop has extended hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day, and the nonprofit is enlarging its staff and board. Miccolis has recently hired a part-time case manager and is in the process of hiring a program director. Miccolis herself no longer works in the cafe so she can develop The Monkey & The Elephant’s new structure, which focuses on increasing services to members of the program.
Miccolis uses her nonprofit cafe to teach related job skills—speaking with customers, networking and handling money. Training sessions also include budgeting classes, conflict management and apartment hunting—what she calls “soft and hard skills.”
So far, The Monkey & The Elephant has graduated six youth from its program, all of whom Miccolis says have since found jobs and housing. Another five young men and women are enrolled in the program and employed by the cafe.
Miccolis is working to make the program self-sustaining, supported soley by sales at the cafe. Currently, the program is partly-funded by private foundations and donations. Her biggest expense is making payroll because she needs to stay open seven days a week, to ensure employees get the shifts they need. Eventually, Miccolis hopes to build a model that could be replicated in other cities.
“We need to look at building connections with employers and outside resources like housing and work for people who finish the program,” she says. “There’s a lot of movement happening and I hope this spring brings some positive movement.”
For her work, Miccolis was nominated last month as a finalist for the Mayor’s Philly Hero award in this year’s annual Mayor’s Day of Service Recognition. The winner will be announced on Tuesday morning at City Hall.Photo header via The Monkey & The Elephant