I stopped at the blue sky Bakery and Cafe on my way home from work today to find out if there were any spaces open for Thursday night's Vegan Extravaganza dinner party (there are 10 spots open). If you've never been to blue sky for coffee or breakfast, you should. Blue Sky is a "non-profit, tax-exempt organization" that employs troubled and homeless youth in order to give them job training- so if you've been a lazy citizen lately, you can give back to the community just by having a cup of coffee. Simple and instant karma!
blue sky Bakery began in 2000, with Lisa Thompson selling her baked goods at farmers markets. blue sky quickly gained a reputation for its freshly baked goods (some of the best scones in the city), and last year in May Thompson opened the cafe. Thompson's original idea was to open an inn (hence the name), a 5 - 8 bedroom bed-and-breakfast that would employ youth as the cooks, gardeners, cleaners, etc- but the investment was too great. (The inn is now a future goal-) Thompson knew she wanted something that would provide "more visibility to the program", so the cafe was born instead. The great thing about rehabilitating the youth in a cafe is that it provides job opportunities in an employment niche "that isn't concerned with criminal backgrounds" adds Thompson.
Blue Sky employs 2 youth in their program at a time, for 12 week intervals at 25 hours per week, with Tuesday and Sunday off. The youth get paid minimum wage, but they get a wage raise if they enroll in a GED program. If they have a high school diploma, they get paid $8.25 (that's about how much I made as a barista at Argo Tea!) . The last 2 youth just "graduated", with one moving on as a retail store manager at Truman College, and the other as a server at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Of the two newest youth in her program, both come from probation officers and Lisa Thompson says they're the best she's had so far, citing their motivation and drive as unparalleled.
In the past, Thompson would take on youth with learning disabilities, mental instabilities, and without case workers, and the trainees would simply vanish after a couple of weeks- youth she doesn't hire now. "They had the chance, and for some reason they just walked away from it" Thompson says. "If they end up in crisis mode, I don't want to be the only one they turn to... I don't want them to depend on me" she adds. Thompson wants to teach these youth all aspects of job training, including proper employer/employee relationships. Thompson estimates she's trained 25 kids in total, and gotten 4 to enroll in a GED program.
blue sky Inn takes youth mostly from The Broadway Youth Center and case workers Thompson has established a repertoire with. Thompson did take on a youth referred from the Albany Park Community Center, but the youth disappeared after a couple of weeks. blue sky Inn also conducts an art program for the homeless youth, called blue sky eXpressions.
.....and, because this is about a coffee shop, I would be amiss if I didn't mention it: the espresso served is one of the best I've had in the city. I'm a finicky Eastern European, so I was pleasantly suprised at how smoooooooth my latte was. blue sky Bakery serves fair trade coffee and Steve's Espresso, which isn't "as dark as a french or italian roast" says Thompson. Steve's Espresso comes from The Coffee and Tea Exchange, a real "mom and pop shop".
If you want to read more about Lisa Thompson and the blue sky Inn, here is an interview she did with the Chicagoist last year.