Former foster-care youth find new futures at Brewerytown cafe

Joseph Hill-Coles, 21, has seen a whole new world recently.

We serve up warm coffee, great smiles, and conversation,” Hill-Coles said of the The Monkey & The Elephant – a new cafe in Brewerytown where he works as a barista.

But Monkey & Elephant isn’t a typical cafe.

It is also a non-profit organization dedicated to employing former foster children like Hill-Coles, and helping empower them to change their future with new career skills and job training.

“I’m lucky because I was adopted,” Hill-Coles said of the foster care system. “Those that weren’t and aged out — it’s hard. A lot of kids don’t get the basics, so they turn to the streets. They don’t have a resume, it’s fast money. But that money doesn’t last.”

Founder Lisa Miccolis, an Americorps alumna, said the coffee shop is a 501(c)(3) focused on supporting the youth who work there, not making money off coffee and pastries.

“The cafe is there to serve former foster youths,” Miccolis said. “It’s to help them move forward in whatever they want to do, whether it’s going to college or getting on a career path.”

Mayor Michael Nutter held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Monkey & Elephant Thursday afternoon celebrating the new business model’s arrival in Philadelphia. A similar nonprofit exists on the West Coast, but it is the first business of its kind in Philly.

Nutter called the Monkey & Elephant’s structure “an innovative approach to creating opportunities for young people from all backgrounds.”

“It can be an easier and more approachable way for the public to engage with a non-profit organization,” Miccolis said. “They can get involved even in a small way just by buying that cup of coffee.”

For Hill-Coles, who is studying psychology and is a mentor at YouthBuild, the future looks bright. Participating in PowerCorps PHL helped lead him to this job, which he says is changing things for the better.

“You see the positive side of what’s going on, you see this world is really great after all,” he said. “You see the sunny skies coming.”

The grand opening for The Monkey & The Elephant, a nonprofit cafe designed to help former foster youth navigate the transition to adulthood, will be held this weekend.

There will be two evening cocktail receptions, on Friday, March 27 and Saturday, March 28, from 7 to 9 p.m. each night.

Tickets are $50 and are tax-deductible as the cafe is a non-profit.