MINNEAPOLIS — At Cajun Twist, Teona Washington is known for feeding the lunch crowd. But now, she is trying to serve a new crowd. In partnership with Wellspring Second Chance and Neighborhood Development Center, Washington is on a mission to hire and train 88 felons.
It is all part of a pilot program called Project 88: Opening Doors to New Beginnings.
"Sadly, the mistakes that lead to the title felon typically follow with avenues of change, from programs and training courses: however once introduced back into society, the label never goes way," she said in a news release. "This program brings a second chance for hope. We see people who have had this struggle and battle and they need a hand up."
Washington is working closely with Deseria Galloway, the founder of the non-profit Wellspring which offers resources and programming services to help improve the lives of ex-offenders.
Galloway says she sees the need daily. She shares an example of a client who lost his job working in the education system because of a felony.
" All of the clients I serve have a criminal history. All of them don't have felonies but many do. I see them on a regular basis," she said."That title (felon) is a label ... that mean less than. It is not acceptable."
This pilot program -- which includes business training -- will roll out in multiple phases. The final phase includes hands on training at Cajun Twist, which serves authentic New Orleans Cuisine. The restaurant was previously located in-the Trailhead at Theodore Wirth Golf Course. The new location, currently under construction, is in South Minneapolis. Part of the training includes resources to help start their own businesses.
"They also get that ongoing mentorship. That is a piece that takes people farther than you will ever know or understand," Galloway said.
The training will happen over a five year period. Washington said participants will work at the new Cajun Twist location in South Minneapolis set to open in September.
"The hidden talent pool, individuals with felonies. They have the utmost talent we are missing out on," Galloway said. "If you choose to push aside because of the label felon we are loosing.
Washington believes this program gives folks with a criminal history an opportunity to see something "within themselves and redefine how they view themselves."
To learn more or to ask questions use the hashtag #project88. To sponsor a participant call (504) 383-3134.