THE BLOG

Millennial Venture Pours Resources Into Former Foster Youth

11/16/2013 01:48 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Over the sounds of boiling hot coffee being poured into three separate large cups, which are filtered into three separate jars, that will be used for a taste test, a millennial woman in Philadelphia shares the inspirational tale of how a trip to the motherland changed her life forever.

A world traveling photojournalist, Lisa Miccolis was looking for a good story to shoot five years ago when she visited an orphanage in South Africa and laid eyes on Ephraim, a teenager originally from Zimbabwe who was living in foster care.

While they didn't engage in conversation upon first glance, Miccolis says it was later that day during a Christmas celebration that the young boy, who was attempting to write his life story, came and introduced himself.

"Ephraim was 16 when we first met. His energy was so amazing; we just started talking about everything, where he was from, how he had gotten here, and what he wanted to do next. I obtained his contact information, so during the remaining two and half months of my visit I was able to keep in contact with him. He opened my eyes to what people experience in foster care."

A self-admitted coffee snob, Miccolis shares that Ephraim is the inspiration behind her award-winning, Philadelphia-based social venture, that's bridging to the gap between foster care and interdependence, while providing great coffee in a supportive community-driven environment.

"In Philadelphia, 1100 youth age out of foster care annually, most of them between ages 18-21. One in four will be incarcerated within the first two years, one in three will live in poverty, and 95 percent of former foster youth will leave the system without a source of income."

While employed at The Monkey & The Elephant, Miccolis touts that in addition to learning the responsibilities that comes with holding a job, youth will learn skills in customer service, communications and leadership.

"The community of support that the youth will receive will really be the difference between The Monkey & The Elephant and any other job. We will have mentoring programs, between our youth and customers, engaging the café community through more than just the transaction of purchasing a cup of coffee. Our goal is for youth to leave the program and successfully be independent."

Miccolis professes her love for the community that exists in cafés, and says she's always been supported in that environment. Claiming to have met best friends and mentors while in cafes, the former AmeriaCorps member who taught at YouthBuild Charter in North Philadelphia is excited that vulnerable youth will be supported by the same type of community she was.

The Monkey and The Elephant is extremely close to Miccolis' heart, and that has much to do with the name.

"It was important for me when coming up with the name for the organization, that I honor the person who inspired it. A couple years ago Ephraim aged out of the system and had to travel back to his home country, it was a very dangerous time for him. Feeling helpless because I was unable to do anything but provide words of hope, we came up with a passcode to ensure his safety along the way. We kept it simple, our favorite animals, his is the elephant, and mine is the monkey."