"It's one thing to tell those kids you believe in them, and it's something different to prove it," says Houser.

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Chad Houser of Momentum Cafe
Credit: Matt Couch

Chad Houser says that when he began pitching the idea of a restaurant staffed by former juvenile offenders, he was at times laughed out of the room. "People said things like, 'Those kids don't want to work; they just want a paycheck.' Or, 'Those kids have never been to a nice restaurant; they can't cook your food.' " But Houser, a chef who had volunteered in the juvenile department for years, knew that wasn't true.

He and a group of those teens began hosting successful pop-up dinners all over Dallas, and 12 months in, Houser sold his partnership in his own restaurant to start work on Café Momentum, a nonprofit eatery and yearlong post-release program for teens who have spent time in the area's juvenile-detention facilities. "It's one thing to tell those kids you believe in them, and it's something different to prove it," says Houser. The restaurant opened in 2015, and beyond just providing job experience, the program also has what Houser calls an "ecosystem of support." At their community center, there's a case management team to assist with financial literacy and parenting classes, a closet stocked with essentials free for the taking, and a school to help students finish their coursework. "We receive accolades because what we do is working from the standpoint of reducing recidivism and increasing high school graduation," says Houser, who is helping launch the program in Pittsburgh and Nashville this year. "But what I'm most proud of is that the kids get to say, 'I did this. I showed up. I graduated.' Whatever the accomplishment, it's theirs; they get to own it. They deserve that recognition."