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Atlanta Cafe Reaches Out to Homeless

Bryce Courtenay wrote a novel, “The Power of One,” showing how one person, doing what he or she knows to be right, can change a corner of their world for the better.

Ann Connor, an assistant professor at Emory University’s School of Nursing for the last 25 years, took the message to heart and has been changing lives ever since. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
She and her husband, A.B. Short, opened Cafe 458 in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Atlanta.
 
I first met A.B. Short when he taught sociology and political science courses at Hong Kong Baptist University. He was one of the most “alive” and innovative people I ever met. Back then it was evident he cared for his fellow man and meant to do something about it.

Cafe 458 looks like a chic bistro but is much more. It is a restaurant for Atlanta’s homeless, who get reservations through referrals and earn the right to dine there by agreeing to participate in a focused program aimed at getting them back on their feet and back into the community.

The cafe gives a sense of respect, dignity and choice to people who have all but given up. Spiritual nutrition is as important as the physical. The uniqueness is in giving long-term services. They build relationships as lives are changed, addictions overcome and steps are made toward getting a job.

The community took over and, with the help of volunteers, renovated an abandoned liquor store to house the cafe. It opened in 1988, and was soon serving up to 65 people a day.
 
“Reservations” are by referral from any organization in Atlanta’s social-services community, and the only requirement is that people chosen to dine at the cafe must agree to begin working toward specific goals, even a goal as simple as replacing eyeglasses or getting the two forms of identification needed to qualify for benefits.

A.B. Short says to the folks, “Tell us your goals, and we’ll help you reach those goals.”

He quickly grafted on an array of essential services, all operated by volunteers: Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or other 12-step programs, free haircuts, a medical van and legal services.

Former President Jimmy Carter wrote about Cafe 458: “There, homeless people can get a hug, a warm welcome, sit down at a table, select a meal they prefer, and order it from an attentive waiter. More than 1,600 people have passed through Cafe 458, in the process regaining some of their dignity as human beings, and many of them now help as volunteers.”

Nationally, Short says, 90 percent of the graduates of drug and alcohol programs “relapse” after six months. Fewer than 10 percent of Cafe 458’s “recovery” graduates do. One of the program’s graduates is quickly rising through the ranks at Firestone Corp. Another is now a social worker with Fulton County Social Services. It’s a wonderful model–and like many such, it succeeds because the underlying premise is simple, and it’s carried out with competence and care.

There is no limit to what one person can do. Don’t give up on your dream–you may be the one who can meet particular needs right on your street, right in your hometown. It only takes one person to make a difference. Someone, somewhere is depending on you.

Britt Towery’s column appears in the Brownwood Bulletin in Brownwood, Texas.