At Café Momentum, teens learn lessons in restauranteering — and life.

Photo above courtesy of Café Momentum.

We’ve heard a lot about the uptick in violence among young people in the Pittsburgh region recently including shootings and fights in all kinds of neighborhoods.

A unique program — only the second in the country after Dallas is helping teenagers in the justice system turn their lives around, one meal at a time.

One step inside Café Momentum in downtown Pittsburgh, and you can’t help but be impressed with the sophisticated décor, delicious food, festive atmosphere, and friendly staff.

You’d never know the young people working there are part of a program for kids in the justice system.

KDKA’s Kristine Sorensen visited the restaurant one evening during dinner service to see how the program works. She talked with one of the young people in the program, Faith from McKeesport. She asked her, “What’s it like to get in the kitchen and learn those skills?”

Faith replied with a big smile, “Hot. Really hot.”

Faith always wanted to be a chef and now does online school in the morning so she can spend most of her day here. She’s among the first group of 18 area teenagers in the 12-month paid internship learning the restaurant industry.

It wasn’t Faith’s choice to come here after she got in trouble for fighting at school.

“I got thrown out of school, and I went through a lot, but then I learned how to turn myself around and I’m here,” she said proudly.

Café Momentum founder Chad Houser says the program is much more than restaurant training. “That’s a Band-Aid on a waterfall,” he told Sorensen. “When you start to look into the root of where the young people are coming from, what their life circumstances are, you understand that it’s an ecosystem of support that has to be built around them.”

The program offers 24/7 support in all aspects of their lives including school, mental health, dealing with trauma, finances , family, and future careers.

Tristyn Williams benefited from those supports in the program in Dallas and now helps spread the word. She said, “I was able to graduate high school when I was 16 years old which was definitely a huge accomplishment for me and just my family, period, because… a lot of them didn’t really get to graduate high school because most of us are young mothers.”

The students learn to work the front of the restaurant, how to cook and bake, prepare a plate, and serve meals to customers.

Jamar from the Hill District says he loves everything about the program. He came here after getting in trouble with law enforcement.

He tells Sorensen he’s learned that he was, “not actually being my potential and getting in trouble. But I’m kind of glad I had to take that route to find out who I am as a person. I found out I’m meant to be someone better. I found that with this program.”

Only a few months at Café Momentum is already making a difference.

Sorensen asked Jamar, “Do you think it’s going to change the direction of your life?”

He replied, “Absolutely. It already has. I love being at Café Momentum. It’s like my second home… It’s definitely changed who I am as a person.”

Faith said, “They’ve already been starting me in the right direction, and I just really love it here.”

Between 80 and 100 teenagers will go through the 12-month program over the course of a year.

It wouldn’t be possible without the support of the Mellon Foundation, Allegheny Foundation, Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, the Piatt family, the Stand Together Foundation, and several Steelers who supported the mission — and many more who are making it financially possible.

The restaurant is open for dinner Wednesdays through Sundays. For more information on the program, please visit their website. Check out the story on KDKA here.

Are you signed up for the Kidsburgh newsletter? It’s the best way to make sure your family knows what’s going on around the city.