Teenagers who have been serving time were instead serving food at the Clark County Juvenile Detention Center’s “Hard Time Cafe” on Friday as part of a program designed to help them seek employment once their sentence ends.
More than 160 invited guests packed into the center’s gym turned 50s diner to be served loaded hot dogs, burgers and old-fashioned root beer floats. The servers, bus staff, cashiers and cooks were all teens being held in the detention center.
Each was interviewed by an employee of Olive Garden and Lee’s Famous Recipe and placed in the appropriate job. The teens then trained with the center’s staff for a month to prepare for their new roles. The idea is to give them a chance to interact positively with the public, while honing new skills they didn’t know they possessed, said Joe Hunter, facility director.
“I let them know, this is what your perception is in the community. You might be a thief, you might be selling drugs, you might be skipping school,” Hunter said. “But this is a chance for you to show the community who you really are.”
Ravi Sampuran, who just turned 18 and is serving time for drug possession and rioting, turned in his detention scrubs for a host uniform and seated guests. He smiled and made small talk as he handed them menus, showing a happy and somewhat shy side people rarely see.
“I can leave that (bad) stuff all behind and become a better person,” Sampuran said. “It helps to make friends and (be) working really hard to try to be something better.”
Although customers paid with fake money, the tips each detainee received were real enough. Any money they received for doing a good job could be used to pay down their real court costs, up to $70, Hunter said.
While the teenagers were obviously new to their positions and there were some bumps, customers said they were impressed by the food and their professionalism.
“Programs like this help children see they can make a difference and improve their lives,” said Shelley Davis, a Clark County teacher. “The food was good, so maybe there’s some chefs.”