OC's Monkey Business Café offers jobs, other opportunities for foster care teens

Phillip Palmer Image
Friday, June 17, 2022
Monkey Business Cafe offers jobs, other opportunities for foster teens
Monkey Business Cafe, with franchise locations in Orange County, is providing teens in the foster care system with jobs and guidance for their future.

FULLERTON, Calif. (KABC) -- The challenges faced by teenagers can be overwhelming even in the best of circumstances. For kids in foster care, its worse.

"You switch from house to house to house to house," said Khatriell Parker. "Often times you leave behind your friends, people that you used to know, people that you were close to."

Hoping to educate and empower young people in the foster care system, Hart Community Homes created Monkey Business Café in 2004. With franchises in Fullerton and Irvine, it's a social enterprise project that complements residential services the nonprofit has offered since 1996.

"The foster system is really broken in the sense that kids are on their own by the time they're 18," said Rebecka Forrester, a Hart board member. "We want them to walk away with a resume, with work experience, with social skills because they've interacted with others and the public."

Almost 60% of the staff at Monkey Business Café are either in the foster care system or have been. The "community of understanding" that creates is an important part of its success.

"I imagine if I was in a different group home it would be so much harder to find anything -- no job, no place to live after 18, no connections," said Khatriell Parker. "They're like my actual family -- more family than my family was."

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Hart Community Homes also helps kids like Khatriell find a place to live even after he turned 18.

But to be a successful restaurant, the food has to be good. A key ingredient for that is a collaboration with the Cal State Fullerton Arboretum and U-CARE, a hands-on research project for college students as well as a place for kids at Monkey Business to learn about sustainable agriculture.

"The garden and everything at Cal State Fullerton is more than just a garden and agriculture," said supervisor Roy Reid. "It's actually growing people and food."

Monkey Business Café's collaboration with U-ACRE and Cal State Fullerton gives the kids in the program an opportunity to do more than build a resume and find transitional housing.

"Seeing yourself in higher education is something that's big because they're working around university students," said Professor Sara Johnson, director of U-ACRE. "Many are thinking, 'I can do that too. I'm building my confidence and I'm seeing myself in a new way.'"

Ashley Robinson spent 4-5 years in foster care and has now worked at Monkey Business Café for almost two years. Having just graduated high school, she's been accepted to Cal State Fullerton.

"It feels really good knowing I work for such an amazing organization," said Robinson.

"Having my job here is what got me to consider Cal State Fullerton as a school," she said. "At first I was a little reluctant to, but it kind of got me on the path that I really think now that I needed to be on."