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Kalamazoo cafe that employs adult offenders opens second location

Walnut & Park at Harrison Circle
Posted at 4:59 PM, Feb 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-11 17:37:31-05

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — A West Michigan cafe that trains and hires formerly incarcerated individuals and those going through the criminal justice system has opened up a second location.

It's all operated through the Kalamazoo Probation Enhancement Program (KPEP).

Walnut and Park Café at Harrison Circle is located at E. Ranson Street and Harrison Street in Kalamazoo.

Like the original location, it's staffed largely by residents of KPEP, a Kalamazoo community corrections provider.

"I didn’t have the proper tools I needed to get on the right track. I needed some help," said former resident and current KPEP vocational trainer Jennifer Heath.

Jennifer went through the eight-week vocational training program, graduated and landed a job at Walnut and Park's original location. She has been employed there for around four years.

She credits her success to KPEP.

"It reenters you into society in a positive way and shows you what is available," said Heath. "I was going through the court system with a short, brief incarceration before KPEP, and KPEP was the alternative to incarceration."

She said it gave her a way out of her old life.

The new location, Walnut and Park at Harrison Circle, is led by a management team, and the staff members are students or graduates of the KPEP Hospitality and Culinary Arts program.

The program equips those who have been incarcerated with job skills to live independently.

"The men and women learned skills in cooking, serving, ServSafe certification, CPR... all the things that would prepare them to not only work in the service industry but a variety of industries," said KPEP President and CEO William DeBoer.

Kalamazoo County Prosecuting Attorney Jeffrey Getting was at the grand opening on Friday. He said this program greatly reduces incarceration by providing an alternative to jail.

"It also provides them a place where they can receive counseling, treatment, services, education in order to be able to provide them with a foundation so that when they are moving forward with their life after a criminal conviction, they can do it in a positive way," said Kalamazoo County Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Getting.

While there are some failures, there are a lot of great successes. Jennifer is just one example. She recently purchased a home and has become a vocational trainer with the program.

"I just train our students in the program with customer service and coffee, and we just have a good time," said Heath. "It has been a great journey and I’ve just grown from there."

Walnut and Park Cafe at Harrison Circle can seat up to 32 people and includes patio seating with room to grow.

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