Newsmakers Making A Difference: Susan Trieschmann, Curt's Cafe

Lisa Fielding
June 07, 2018 - 6:00 am

Susan Trieschmann / WBBM Newsradio

EVANSTON (WBBM NEWSRADIO) – Twenty-two-year-old Ardell Nunez was shot when he was 16.

"I was doing stuff I shouldn't have, and I had a traumatic brain injury,” he said.

Now, every morning, he makes the two-hour commute each way from the South Side of Chicago to his new job at Curt's Cafe in Evanston.

"I started working, like three days in and but it's worth it. I love it," Nunez said.

Ardell Nunez /WBBM NEWSRADIO

Susan Trieschmann founded Curt's Cafe in 2012 as a place for at-risk youth to learn work and life skills. Some of them wouldn't have had a chance otherwise.

"No one wanted to touch this age group. No one wanted to touch the age group with so many checks against them, like being in prison, like being homeless and having dropped out of school," Trieschmann said.

Trieschmann attended DePaul when she was 50 years old and accidentally enrolled in a restorative justice class.

"My final exam was sitting with young men in prison. It changed the whole direction of my life. It was probably one of the most hopeful days of my life."

Trieschmann soon realized that some of these men might need second chances.

"I met three young people who were 15 and they were going to prison for graffiti art. They ended up only getting community service, but still. That was the day I realized we can't keep throwing kids away, we can't do this anymore, so I came up with this business plan."

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

Trieschmann employs young people 15 to 24 years of age who are homeless, ex-cons and truants. They work the register, cook and greet customers.

They are paid a stipend and also are required to meet with social workers.

"We have full-time social workers at both cafes. We teach financial literacy, we teach table etiquette, we teach anger management, we teach dress for success, how to get a LinkedIn profile. It's part of their shift."

John Thomas, 19, works in the kitchen.

"I cook, do the dishes, take food out to customers. My favorite thing to make is the Queso Flats,” he said, laughing. “They're my favorite thing to eat and make.”

John Thomas (WBBM Newsradio)

Thomas said Curt's Cafe got him off the streets and gave him a second chance at life.

"It's made a huge difference in my life. Not only has it kept me out of trouble, they've also helped me get my GED, which I've just completed. 'How does it feel?' It feels great.”

Thomas said he dropped out of school when he was 16.

"I was getting into illegal activities to make some money. That's not the way. This is a blessing. I wake up and I know I don't have to worry about eating or having money in my pocket. I come here and there's hope,” he said.

In a short six years, Trieschmann's program has already helped dozens of kids, and she's already opened a second location for at risk girls.

"The girls need different help than the boys do. When we separate them, we are able to teach our women female empowerment, positive body image.”

The boys, meanwhile, are taught how to avoid sexual harassment and domestic violence.

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

Treischmann's next wish is a third location, in Highland Park and hopefully one day inside the new Barack Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.

For Nunez and Thomas, Curt's Cafe is their new home and their new hope. Nunez says Treischmann gave him a second chance, when no one else would.

"I’m so grateful. I'm grateful to see another day and work."

"They've worked very hard to change their own lives. I've been fortunate enough to make opportunities for them, but they have to do the work,” Treischmann said.

As WBBM celebrates its 50th anniversary as Newsradio this year, we’ll be honoring 50 Newsmakers making a difference in the community. 

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