The official opening of the Flying Fruit Café at the University of Baltimore’s John and Frances Angelos Law Center was celebrated Feb. 18 with cake and introductory comments by UB President Kurt Schmoke and UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski III.
The Choice Program at UMBC — a national model for community-based intervention that, in nearly 30 years, has served more than 20,000 young people from Maryland’s highest-risk communities — runs the café as part of its job-training program.
Two young café employees, Daesha Johnson and Matthew Smith, also spoke, describing their work with the Choice Program and earning enthusiastic applause from an audience that included Baltimore Deputy Mayor Dawn Kirstaetter.
Smith said the Choice Program had helped him find a new, better path.
“Three years ago my life was full of chaos,” he told the crowd in the sixth-floor café space. “I started losing all hope. I was not motivated; I was looking for the easy route.”
Through the Choice Program, Smith said, he learned crucial job skills, such as the importance of getting to work on time.
“I had to want to be at work,” he said.
Today, Smith says he’s looking to establish a career.
“I plan to take everything I’ve learned from Choice everywhere I go,” he said.
Johnson, 20, spoke of the distance she’d come in the last few years thanks to her experience with the Choice Program.
“At 13 my mentors were selling drugs on the street,” said Johnson, who earned her high school diploma last year and plans to pursue a career in nursing. “The Choice Program supported me and allowed me to be a leader among my peers.”