Teacher Stories: Chrissy Rice, ESL teacher at Manasquan School District (pictured, center, in white shirt with the employees of Kindness Café.)
My students are wonderful. They mostly come from Mexico and Latin American countries. They are in such a difficult position, but yet they still are able to find joy in life. Originally, I was thinking that if I had a café, where I would take the CLI (Center for Learning and independence) students and merge them with my ESL students for the social interactions, and the mechanics of working a job and the things that the CLI students need. I thought it would be a really good marriage. But of course, in my head it was wonderful, but with scheduling it just wasn’t feasible, so the ESL students were not able to participate, at least currently. If I do grow where we’re open every day of the week, and we bring in older employees that have been trained somewhere else, I could hire my ESL students as a job for them. I think it could have a lot of potential.
I named it Kindness Café, and our opening day was September 12, 2022, and it’s been great ever since. I mean, everybody loves it. The customers feel good when they come in and they see these kids working, and it just brings a smile to everybody’s faces. We have repeat customers that come back all the time. You know, these students, these employees do have a purpose even though they need a lot of help. There’s a purpose for them. Everybody has a purpose in their life. And everybody has the ability to grow and be a productive member of society in whatever capacity they can do it. I see that they’re engaging. There’s more eye contact, there’s excitement. There’s satisfaction as they’re finding out skills they possess that they would never find out in the classroom. Like somebody might have an aptitude for serving food and drinks, or working the cash register, or some discover that they were born to be a greeter.
My hope is that by March, after the February break, we could pay these employees the new minimum wage rate for their hours at the café. So that’s my short goal. Long term I would like to see our café open more days a week. I am so grateful to Meighan Badenhausen, the owner at Main Street Kitchen for giving us the space to do this in her shop every Monday. We are open Mondays 9-11 at the Main Street Kitchen, 140 Main St, Manasquan, NJ 08736.
Interview and photo by Gregory Andrus, Creator of Portraits of the Jersey Shore