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New coffee shop looks to help those on probation or parole re-enter community

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Getting a job after being in trouble with the law can be tough.

But for more than 35 years, KPEP, in Kalamazoo has been helping those on probation or parole get back into the working world.

Monday, their newest efforts open to the public.

The Walnut and Park Coffee Shop that is run solely by KPEP participants.

They're taking a leap, using the new coffee shop as a pathway to permanent employment for many of their participants.

The grand opening is Monday, and it's got a lot of people very hopeful for their futures.

Shakea Jackson and Melissa Berman are only a few weeks in to their time in the KPEP culinary arts program; it's a 10 week intensive program, aimed at giving them skills to move on in life.

"I'm on probation, so I have to come here and complete the program and continue on, and hopefully it's successful," Jackson said.

KPEP is taking it a step further, opening the Walnut and Park Coffee Shop, to give them more options than ever before.

Without it, they tell us their future was looking bleak.

"In jail. You know. So this is something that I'm so grateful for. Because you wouldn't get this opportunity anywhere else," said Berman.

KPEP President William DeBoer says finding jobs for offenders has always been their goal, and it's a hard one for someone with a record. But the coffee shop can provide them with a foundation.

"Most of them are felony offenders. They're either in here on probation as an alternative to going to jail or prison or some are on parole transitioning back to the community," he said.

The hope is for workers to move on from pouring coffee to something even better.

"Our goal, unlike many businesses, is turnover. We want to keep people here maybe for 3 months, build a resume, go out and look for a job having a job that's a big deal," DeBoer said.

For those like Melissa Berman, it's giving them a lot of hope.

"It gives people from KPEP something to look forward to, because they're trying to get into here and once they get into here where can they go from here," she said.

Walnut and Park will serve Water Street Coffee, and have a variety of food options made through the KPEP culinary arts program.

They are open Monday through Friday for breakfast and lunch.

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