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Cafe helping mentally ill get jobs could close

Posted at 1:40 PM, Apr 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-29 16:40:44-04
A local café that helps job train people with mental illnesses could soon have to close its doors. Café 54 has changed hundreds of lives in Tucson, and now it needs your help!
 
"Fresh Food...Fresh Start" is the mantra of the downtown eatery that employs dozens of Tucsonans who struggle with mental illnesses that range from alcoholism to schizophrenia.
 
The menu features healthy food from around the world prepared by the trainees and their job coaches who teach them how to prepare, cook, and bake a variety of dishes. No experience required. Just an appetite to learn.
 
For some of the trainees, this opportunity is not only practical, it's therapeutic. 
 
"It's serene, it's calm, and I just come in and do my job, and I get a good feeling from that," said Sharon Kinney. She struggles with bipolar disorder, PTSD, and has battled alcoholism in the past. But here, at Café 54, she said, that all goes away.
 
"It's changed my life. It's given me more of a reason to get out there and do my thing and live life instead of watch it," Kinney said. And I would never go back to the way I was before. But it wouldn't have been possible without a Café 54."
 
About 350 people over the last decade have been trained through this specialty program that is run by state and federal dollars. For the past several years, funding for Café 54 has been going down, and this year, it's so bad, they are not sure if the café can afford to stay open. 
 
"The latest projections we've had show us that we're operating off our savings right now," said Program Director Orlando Montes. "We're going to be at a deficit of about $175,000 at the end of the year. It's a very unsettling place for us to be in."
 
That's where the community comes into play. Kinney urged Tucsonans to, "Come in, see how we work, see what goes on, and see that all these lives here are being changed."
 
Stop by and get some fresh food served with a side of hope right downtown on Pennington Street.
 
Click HERE to go to the Café 54 website, and click HERE for a link to donate.
 
If you own a business and would like to employ some of the trainees of Café 54, or if you'd like to become a trainee, visit the Café 54 website for more.