The chill new coffee stop in Salt Lake City is staffed with homeless youths, who couldn’t be happier to find themselves on an upward track after some tough times.
Maud’s Cafe at 422 W. 900 South in the Granary District — the former warehouse and industrial area that’s undergoing a makeover — gives young adults a chance to get training and job experience and work for an hourly wage.
“All I can say is I’m grateful. The people here are amazing,” said Jennifer Salceda, 18. “And they believe in me. It changes everything — you start to believe in yourself.”
The operation was launched in January by Volunteers of America-Utah and is next to the nonprofit’s Homeless Youth Resource Center.
“It’s real cool, and I like doing it — it’s laid back here and nice,” Salceda said. “My favorite drink to make is a latte because you can do art on top with the foam.”
For Salceda, who lives at the resource center, the VOA is a godsend. She got kicked out of her Kearns home in December and was living in a nearby park with her boyfriend.
“There was that feeling that we were helpless and couldn’t get out of it,” she recalled. “There were times we were angry and depressed and crying, missing our families.”
Maud’s is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Beyond coffee, the offerings include bagels, croissants and a host of other baked goods, along with burritos, salads, sandwiches and soup.
The homeless baristas — or interns — are paid $8 per hour through the program, which is tailored to each individual, manager Kiara Polee said.
“We see where they are along their personal journey and help them with social and personal skills, as well as job training,” Polee said. “The idea is to make them really great employees.”
Another Maud’s intern, Hope Jones, 19, graduated with honors from Highland High School when she was 17. She had been in foster care for three years while her mother was in prison. About the time Jones finished high school, she was reunited with her mother. But times were tough because, as a felon, her mother couldn’t find work.
Jones set off for Los Angeles. But the sojourn proved to be difficult. Eventually, she made her way back to Salt Lake City.
“There were days when I was starving and had nowhere to sleep. I came back from L.A. in December and was really struggling,” she said. “This place really saved me. … It helped me stay off drugs and got me back to a productive life.”
Maud’s and the VOA resource center provide a community of young people who all have faced tough challenges at an early age.
“It’s nice to be here because people can relate,” Jones said. “They can confide in me and I can confide in them, and they don’t judge me. Pain is pain.”
Jones has worked a variety of jobs, including cleaning restrooms at Salt Lake City International Airport. Like Salceda, she enrolled in a certified nursing assistant program and needs only to pass the state certification before she can begin work. She’s already had several interviews.
The future, Jones said, looks bright. It will take a lot of work, but she can imagine her life one year from now when she hopes to have her own apartment and a car.
The cafe was the brainchild of Jessica Norie, president of Artspace, which has its Greenery and Solar Gardens projects nearby, explained Cathleen Sparrow, VOA’s chief development officer. Artspace owns the building that houses Maud’s.
“Jessica came to VOA and said, ’We want a coffee shop for our tenants,’” Sparrow said. “It was an offer we couldn’t refuse.”
The cafe training program is 12 weeks long. The interns’ hours are built around their studies and other programming, Sparrow explained. VOA hopes 24 interns will complete the program each year.
William Heinig, 21, wants to be a truck driver. He had been homeless since June 2016, when he arrived in Utah. Originally from the Syracuse, N.Y., area, Heinig found his way west after being kicked out of the house.
“I was in the legal system [for criminal mischief],” he explained. “My mom was sick and tired of me being in the system, so I had to fend for myself.”
As a practicing Mormon, Heinig wanted to come to Salt Lake City. The church paid his airfare here, but he soon found himself at The Road Home shelter. After a month or so, he was directed to VOA’s Homeless Youth Resource Center.
“It’s a good thing there are people out there who care,” he said of VOA and its partners. “Now I’m doing what I need to get back on my feet.”
After living at the resource center, Heinig was able to get into the nonprofit’s transitional housing for men. He now is looking forward to completing a commercial driving program through Salt Lake Community College.
“Once I get my [commercial driver license], I can work for UTA as a bus driver and then get on with a trucking company,” he said. “I highly recommend the VOA; they have a lot of resources.”
The young baristas add to Maud’s vibe, said businesswoman Julie Coates, who lives nearby at Artspace and likes to hang out at the new cafe.
“I come here as often as I can. I do a lot of work here,” she said. “They nailed it with the design. It’s amazing.”
MAUD’S CAFE BY VOLUNTEERS OF AMERICA
The cafe is named after Maud Ballington Booth, who co-founded the Volunteers of America in 1896. VOA began Utah operations in 1986.
The agency’s Homeless Youth Resource Center in Salt Lake City opened in May 2016. VOA-Utah serves more than 10,000 people a year, dealing with homelessness, addiction and mental illness. For more information on VOA, visit www.voaut.org.