Friday, February 10, 2006

Good News from New Orleans

Catholic Campaign for Human Development Honors New Orleans Man for Empowering Young Adults

WASHINGTON (February 9, 2006)– Craig Cuccia will receive the Year 2006 Sister Margaret Cafferty Development of People Award for his visionary work to train and employ at-risk teens and young adults in the hospitality industry in New Orleans. The national award is given annually by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the domestic anti-poverty program of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and will be presented here February 12.

Mr. Cuccia is the co-founder and executive director of Café Reconcile, a restaurant in the Central City neighborhood. It provides practical, on-the-job training, experience and life skills to local hospitality school students and other residents and helps them to develop expertise in restaurant service and management. The Café, which began in 1997 as a modest candy shop in a renovated corner of a derelict building, has been recognized as one of the city’s Top Ten soul food restaurants, with no meal priced greater than $8.

Mr. Cuccia, a New Orleans native, brought his diverse and extensive experience as a general contractor and as a worker in hotels, restaurants and oil fields to his post at Café Reconcile. “Since I’ve been here, I’ve used everything I’ve learned in all of my other experiences,” he explains. “I went to Nichols State University for awhile and then to a community college, but sitting in a classroom wasn’t my forte. I’m a learner-by-doer.”

In the mid-1990’s, Mr. Cuccia became involved in ministry through his spiritual director, the late Fr. Harry Tompson, SJ, and helped him open a center for homeless people. They bought the Central City building that is now home to Café Reconcile in 1997 and began to develop the Café as a cooperative project of the Learning for a Sustainable Future Foundation and the St. John Francis Regis Hospitality School. The present Café operation opened in 2000 and more than 250 young people have completed the training program. Many have moved on to careers in the city’s top restaurants and there are now ten full-time neighborhood employees at the Café.

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Craig has made such a great contribution to the young people of New Orleans, and I can tell you from personal experience that the food at Cafe Reconcile is darn good as well!


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