Changing lives while feeding others

Every+month%2C+the+counseling+department+schedules+a+food+truck+%0Ato+visit+campus+as+a+way+to+show+appreciation+for+teachers+and+staff+members.+But+when+Ruthies+came+to+campus%2C+it+was+about+more+than+teachers+having+something+different+to+eat%2C+it+was+a+chance+to+help+the+community+as+the+truck+is+staffed+by+people+recently+released+for+the+juvenile+detention+program.+

Trisha Dasgupta

Every month, the counseling department schedules a food truck to visit campus as a way to show appreciation for teachers and staff members. But when Ruthie’s came to campus, it was about more than teachers having something different to eat, it was a chance to help the community as the truck is staffed by people recently released for the juvenile detention program.

By Trisha Dasgupta, Liberty High School - TX

The counseling department has started a new monthly tradition that brings food trucks on campus for teachers to enjoy. 

“We think this is important for our teachers to have something fun to look forward to each month,” counselor Lauren Zambiasi said. “Our teachers do so much for our students and we want to provide a way to just bring them a smile for each day.”

When I looked at Ruthie’s website, and started reading about the program, and how they help the community, I instantly placed an order,”

— teacher Brian Higgins

However, this month’s truck was a little different. Teachers got to enjoy food from Ruthie’s: Fueled by Cafe Momentum, a food truck dedicated to giving back to the community in a variety of ways. 

“Every time I get an email about the monthly food truck visit, I check out the menu and think about ordering something, but I never do,” teacher Brian Higgins said. “But when I looked at Ruthie’s website, and started reading about the program, and how they help the community, I instantly placed an order.”

Funded by 2018 CNN Hero Chad Houser, Ruthie’s is in partnership with Cafe Momentum, a downtown Dallas restaurant that doubles as a non-profit which provides paid-internships and work opportunities to young adults coming out of juvenile detention. 

“Café Momentum, working in collaboration with the Dallas County Juvenile Justice Department, strives to teach young adolescent men and women that it is possible to break the cycle of violence and crime that many of these teens have faced,” the restaurant states in their mission statement. “We focus on creating environments for these youth where they can gain self-confidence and learn marketable skills to ensure a more successful future.”

After an internship with Cafe Momentum, individuals have access to jobs with the cafe’s partners, including Ruthie’s. 

“I’ve been with Ruthie’s for almost a year, and Cafe Momentum, I’ve been with them for four years,” Ruthie’s employee Kaevon Murray said. “So two years ago was my last year with [Cafe Momentum], I graduated from there. It was a good experience because they had many opportunities.”

I thought, ‘If you’re not willing to do something yourself, then you’re being a hypocrite.’ And that was it for me,”

— Cafe Momentum owner Chad Houser

Houser and Cafe Momentum have been recognized for their extensive reach in helping at-risk youth, but it all started when Houser volunteered at the Dallas County Juvenile Detention Center and saw firsthand the experiences of the young people in the system.

“I remember consciously thinking that the system is rigged based on choices that were made for him, not by him – the color of his skin; the part of town that he was born into; the schools that he had access to,” Houser said in an interview with CNN. “I thought, ‘If you’re not willing to do something yourself, then you’re being a hypocrite.’ And that was it for me.”

Recognizing the systemic discrimination many kids in juvenile detention face, Houser hopes to create a supportive environment.

“There is no silver bullet that can course-correct decades of disinvestment, neglect and marginalization,” Houser said to The Dallas Morning News. “But, we can at least attempt to create a new system of support for our kids coming out of the justice system. We can create a place for them to land.”

This story was originally published on Wingspan on November 30, 2021.