Helix Cafe, owned by Loyola graduates Sean Connolly and Caitlin Botsios, celebrated its opening May 10 in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood.
The cafe’s mission is to reduce the impacts of youth unemployment by providing jobs and skill development for 16-24-year-olds who are traditionally unemployed, according to an email obtained by The Phoenix.
The opening event hosted several speakers, including 48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman, Kevin Stevens, the dean of Loyola’s Quinlan School of Business and Helix employee Lauren Anne Johnson, the email said.
In Cook County, 21,518 people age 16-24 are out of school with no high school diploma or employment, according to a 2017 report from UIC Great Cities Institute for the Alternative Schools Network.
Johnson, a student at Truman College said in a video taken at the event she’s been working with Helix Cafe since January and has had a great experience.
“It’s been an amazing opportunity,” she said. “Young people have a lot of skills and a lot to give to any company but we don’t have many opportunities. Helix is one of those great opportunities to give us a chance.”
Osterman talked about the importance of Helix providing employment development to young people in the video from the event.
“I can’t stress this enough, this is so needed in our community and our city,” Osterman said during the opening. “[Helix Cafe] is empowering young people and putting them forward in the work world. They’ll learn life skills here they’ll be able to carry on.”
Helix Cafe uses a business model similar to Loyola Limited, Loyola’s undergraduate business enterprise, The Phoenix previously reported. Loyola Limited allows students to develop their business and entrepreneurship skills, according to its website. They use the model through the cafe’s youth employee program.
Connolly, a Loyola Limited alumnus, has had the idea to bring a student-run business model to the community since he was a Loyola student, The Phoenix previously reported. Botsios uses her background in education to facilitate the youth employment program while Connolly uses his background in business to run the cafe.
Youth employees will spend three hours a week on business skill development and taking on business actions in the cafe, The Phoenix previously reported. For the remaining hours, youth employees will work in other positions in the cafe such as cashier and barista.
There are currently six youth employees working at Helix Cafe, according to Botsios. She said some are students at Chicago-area schools including Truman College, Harold Washington College and CICS Northtown Academy, while some aren’t currently enrolled in school.
Helix Cafe is the first business Botsios and Connolly have opened, according to Botsios. They plan to expand and open more businesses around the city, Connolly said. He said the next business could be another cafe or something else depending on the neighborhood’s needs.
In an interview with The Phoenix, Stevens said it’s great to see alumni apply what they learned at Loyola in their careers.
“It’s just what we want our alumni to stand for,” he said. “To see them take the experience they got [at Loyola] and translate it into a social enterprise that does good is truly inspiring.”
A Loyola marketing class and accounting class will be working with Helix Cafe, according to Stevens. He said the marketing class will help devise Helix’s marketing plan and the accounting class will work with them to do an audit — an official inspection of a business’ accounts — of their business processes.