NEW YORK — A great cup of coffee has arrived in Hamilton Heights — along with jobs, arts offerings, and a place to relax, all under one roof.
Since opening its doors last summer, Taza de Café, the first arts coffee house in the historic Hamilton Heights neighborhood of West Harlem, has become a neighborhood hotspot and a coveted showcase for local poets and other spoken-word artists.
The café has also become a source of hope for formerly homeless men and women. That’s because the café offers employment and on-the-job training — in customer service, inventory maintenance, time management, personal presentation and teamwork — to clients of Praxis Housing Initiatives, the New York City nonprofit that provides transitional housing to the homeless.
Said Praxis CEO Svein Jorgensen, “The Praxis Taza de Café serves three pressing needs at once. It gives the community a welcoming, comfortable place to enjoy a great cup of coffee. It’s a platform for local artists. And it’s another way for Praxis to help formerly homeless men and women get back on their feet.”
In providing jobs to clients whose life circumstances may have resulted in spotty employment records or time spent in jail Taza de Café offers something unique.
“People trying to escape homelessness and poverty want to work but are often shunned by employers,” said Floyd Cuevas, director of operations for Praxis, who came up with the idea for the café and nurtured it into being. “By giving these adults the chance to learn a skill and gain the self-respect that comes from a job well done, Taza de Café tackles this problem head-on.”
Taza de Café (Spanish for “cup of coffee”) is Praxis’s first foray into social enterprise. The goal of social enterprise is to establish commercial, revenue-generating ways to support an organization’s work and further its mission. All proceeds from Taza go to support Praxis’s work helping formerly homeless New Yorkers prepare to live independently.
A SHOWCASE FOR LOCAL TALENT
Since kicking off in October Taza de Café’s monthly poetry evenings have drawn poetry-lovers from as far away as the West Village. The events, at which poets and other spoken-word artists share their work, often to musical accompaniment, have been so successful that in March the café will start offering two poetry evenings a month rather than just one.
The neighborhood’s poets have been as enthusiastic as their audiences.
“There was an immediate show of support for bringing poetry and performance into the population,” said poet Puma Perl, who helped launch the series. Added poet Marilyn Thomas King, known as MTK, who curates and hosts the series, “There are so many artists out here and we needed a place to showcase them,”
The line-up for the recent February 16 event honoring Black History Month was representative of the eclectic group of performers the café regularly brings together. On the bill were gospel songstress Tara Robinson; singer, dancer, actress and poet Ashelle aka Educator Ange; gospel trio Speakers of the House & Saint; poet-comicsMarcus John & Naa Aku; and poet and saxophonist Demetrius Daniel.
In March, Taza de Café will not only expand the poetry series to twice a month. It will also add visual arts to its cultural fare. Each month a different local artist will be invited to display her or his work on the café’s walls. A percentage of all sales will be donated to the café.
HELPING FORMERLY HOMELESS NEW YORKERS GET BACK ON TRACK
Taza de Café is just the latest example of Praxis’s effort to help formerly homeless adults return to mainstream society. Over 90 Praxis residents are currently enrolled in the three-year-old Workforce Development Program, bringing to over 1,000 the total number of clients who have participated since the 2008 launch. Through this innovative initiative Praxis partners with organizations already offering training in various trades. Current partnerships include those with City Harvest and Project Renewal for food-safety training, with The Osborne Association for training in “green” construction, and with ICD (International Center for the Disabled) for training in building maintenance and upkeep. Other collaborations are in the works.
The Workforce Development Program also helps clients learn to market themselves and the skills they have acquired; staff members offer coaching in job hunting, resume building, interviewing and basic computer skills, including use of the Internet.
ABOUT TAZA DE CAFÉ
Located at 450 West 155th Street on the corner of St. Nicholas Avenue, Taza de Café is the newest addition to West Harlem’s historic Hamilton Heights district. More than a place to savor gourmet coffee in a convivial atmosphere, Taza de Café offers a showcase for local artists, poets and musicians and, critically, a way for formerly homeless men and women to contribute to the community as Taza employees. Café de Taza (“cup of coffee,” in Spanish) is open weekdays from 6:30 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. Twice a month the café stays open late to host a spoken-word showcase. Taza de Café is a program of Praxis Housing Initiatives, Inc.
ABOUT PRAXIS HOUSING INITIATIVES, INC.
Founded in 1995, Praxis Housing Initiatives, Inc., supports chronically homeless people by teaching them the skills they need to live independently. One of New York City’s lowest cost/highest service housing providers, Praxis provides housing for nearly 400 people every night in four residences, all of which offer a wide range of support services. Since 2000, Praxis has secured permanent housing for more than 1,250 men and women formerly living on the streets.