Article 25

The Choices We Make

In Uncategorized on 05/02/2012 at 7:06 pm

ImageFrom an unlikely partnership, a gathering place

By Corey Gibson

 

It isn’t hard to miss Choices Café. The hand-painted sign out front is pretty small, the buildings on either side of the entrance look to be abandoned and the building across the street has every window boarded up, overgrown weeds in the front and a dilapidated sign signifying its past history as a place for the blind.

But Choices Café, 1506 Elm St., is nothing like the buildings around it. The front door always seems to be open, inviting anyone walking by into the large front room. A bright red and white floor looks thoroughly swept. Couches, chairs and tables of different colors, shapes and styles line the walls. Pictures of volunteers from the past fours years, since the doors first opened in 2008, hang on the walls. Posters from various concerts and fundraisers for the café nearly block out the white walls. A huge sign saying “Choices Café” is nailed against the brick. A jukebox, with music ranging from soft rock to jazz to rock ‘n’ roll, continually pumps music into the room.

This is a café for the community. This is the kind of café that Mike Rogers and Mike Moroski wanted to build. A place for people. All people.

‘Tirelessly advocating’

“The café came about real organically,” says Moroski, chief executive officer and co-founder of the cafe and dean of student living at Purcell Marian High School.

While working at Moeller High School, Moroski became involved in programs that took students to Over-the-Rhine to help refurbish abandoned houses. Through that program, he met Mike Rogers, whose background is far different from Moroski’s. Rogers did not have the affluent upbringing Moroski enjoyed.

“He grew up on a gold course, and I didn’t,” Rogers says.

Rogers struggled with addiction and spent many nights at the Drop Inn Center.

Moroski went to Xavier University and, although he admits he has had his fair share of run-ins with the law, came from a fairly well off family who always got him out of trouble.

As the two became closer and their friendship grew stronger, they started talking about opening an affordable coffee shop in Over-the-Rhine. They wanted to open a place where people from completely different walks of life would be able to go and build a small community, similar to the friendship they had developed. Neither had ever run a café before.

“More than anything, this is a community gathering place,” Moroski says.

Choices Café is a non-profit organization funded by grants and donations. A large poster on the wall near the register outlines the expenses of the café for all to see:

“$54,960 to operate the café each year. Supplies are $360 a month. Payroll is $3,500 a month.”

“We have been fortunate recently to have an individual help with the utilities, and that is our biggest bill,” Moroski says. “Having a full-time, paid employee would be what we would like to do, but it isn’t in the budget yet.”

Although the café makes no money, it mostly keeps regular hours, opening most days at 9 a.m. and closing around 1 p.m., although many different programs happen throughout the day, even after the regular “business” hours.

Programs range from Narcotics Anonymous meetings to memorial services to the HELP program, which helps ex-offenders get back into the workforce.

“Our HELP program has taken on a real life of its own,” Moroski says. “Brother Mike Murphy works tirelessly advocating, pointing these guys in the right direction so they can get job training and resume training.”

Of all the programs organized with the help of Choices Café, the most interesting might be the Urban Plunge. The plunge is a weeklong experience in which students engage with the Over-the-Rhine community, forming relationships and learning about issues affecting the homeless.

Rogers said the students come from Loyola University, Miami University and other colleges.

‘Inspire hope’

 “We work on both ends,” Moroski says. “We try to tell people, ‘Hey, you have choices. Use them for good.’ And for people who have entered the HELP program, we realize they may not have had many choices or any choices at all. So we try to help them on both ends.”

Anything to get people together, to help shape the community, is what Choices Café is all about.

“We need to inspire hope in people,” Rogers says.

Earl Hunt, the manager of the café, is sitting in a chair out front of the café. He is an older gentleman, retired and sober for the past 21 years. He is a large fellow, with a graying beard and hands that look as if they haven’t ever had a day off. He has a small stick in his mouth and takes long pauses before answering a question, as if he forgot the question and suddenly remembered it a moment later.

He is someone whom everyone seems to know. People walking by the café constantly stop to say hello to Earl. And then he says what he knows about them: where they live, what kinds of jobs they have, how long they have been sober.

Music blares out the front door. He tells me we are listening to a band called “Medusa.” But he likes all kinds of music.

“I like to listen to everything,” Earl says. “I like Lynyrd Skynryd. I like Whitney Houston. And I really like Jesse James and the Gang.”

Earl is the face of Choices Café. He says “it beats laying in my bed all day.” He says he hopes the café inspires people to strive for a better community and brings people from all walks of life together.

Yet not one person steps foot into the café the entire time that Earl and I sit outside and listen to music.

It took an analogy from Mike Rogers for me to understand the true goal of the café and the real meaning of choices.

“If I put you in a box and I put myself in a box, what would we talk about?” he says. “We would just talk. We are both humans. We are both people. What makes us different?”

Any person can get along with any other person, regardless of race, color, religion, culture, background or any other aspect that makes a person an individual, according to Rogers.

He describes a young man from Moeller High School who met a man at the Drop Inn Center who had served 24 years in a state penitentiary. When the young man from Moeller graduated, the man he had met at the Drop Inn Center sent him a graduation card. They became friends and overcame their differences.

“If you ain’t got hope,” Rogers says, “you ain’t got nothing.”

 

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