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Local Prison Reentry Project One of First in Nation

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Jeane’ Holley, Cuyahoga County: 216.698.2544; jholley@cuyahogacounty.us 
Jessica Starr, LMM: 216.658.8422; jstarr@lutheranmetro.org 
Sharon Luke, ODRC: 216.777.8128; sharon.luke@odrc.state.oh.us 
Amy Castelli, True Freedom Ministries; castellimedia1@aol.com 

Comeback Café Produces Well-Trained Labor Pool

- An innovative prison reentry partnership has turned into a unique program which places currently incarcerated women in charge of running a café in downtown Cleveland.

The Comeback Café is a product of the Chopping for Change program, which combines innovative culinary workforce development as a model of pre-release, focusing on minimizing the challenges that occur with reintegration. The café itself, located at the Virgil E. Brown Building, is helping to break down stereotype barriers in Ohio by introducing reentry to the community in a different way. The program aims to reduce recidivism in the state.

Chopping for Change began in 2016 with the support of County Executive Armond Budish cheering on the first graduating class. The program continues to grow with an increase in participants, and now the opening of the Comeback Café.

"Providing people with a chance to improve their lives, learn new skills and to build a career pathway is one of my key strategic imperatives. I am pleased with this collaborative and supportive relationship between Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and Cuyahoga County," said County Executive Armond Budish.

The café familiarizes every day citizens with the new faces of reentry. They are mothers who are nearing the ends of their sentences and ready to get back home to their families instead of heading back to prison. Comeback Café is providing on-the-job training so they can find work upon release. In addition to the café, Marble Room is getting in on the groundbreaking reentry method by welcoming the women into their restaurant and trusting them to provide great service and food to guests. Participation from other restaurants is in the works.

The collaborative Chopping for Change program is an effort developed between the Cuyahoga County Office of Reentry, Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry and Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC).

In addition to the existing partners, True Freedom Ministries signed on as a café partner and provides transportation to the women to and from the location. As part of Chopping for Change’s culinary education and job training, the women also receive wrap-around services at LMM, such as substance abuse and trauma therapy, to further increase reentry success.