BALTIMORE — On the corner of North Broadway and East Preston Street, a program that's building more work-savvy young people is brewing.
"We don't just make coffee, we change lives and one without the other, it doesn't work for us," Holly Shook, the co-owner and founder of CUPs Coffeehouse, said.
Shook came up with the idea of CUPs, or creating unlimited possibilities, when she decided she wanted to take a crack at her own coffee shop. With nearly two decades of a background in retail, she thought she was ready -- until she posted a 'help wanted' sign in the door.
"We very, very quickly realized when we got 150 applications in less than a week that we needed to do more," Shook said.
She and co-owner Kenika Walker, who was one of the first to work at CUPs, says although there was a wave of people wanting to get behind the counter, most of them weren't prepared for that job -- or any other.
"The population that we deal with, our youth, they usually come from a background that is usually a single parent home or they're the adult. So for them, they get to, kind of, be silly and actually be a kid," Walker said.
It's why the idea bubbled up to start 'Project I Can' --- a year-long workforce development program that's helped make young people between 16-25 become more job ready. It's one that got a boost from the Baltimore Children and Youth Fund, expanding what was already impacting hundreds of kids to a more holistic approach to help them in and outside of CUPs.
But it was an audit in the youth fund that those at CUPs fear could slow down their quick progress.
Associated Black Charities, the group impacted by the Healthy Holly book scandal that rocked City Hall and ousted Mayor Catherine Pugh, runs the funds for BCYF.
Those at CUPs, and other youth programs that receive money from the fund, say the audit has frozen spending and the ripple effect comes when those at CUPs don't know when or if they'll get the money they need to press on.
"I have to prepare them to not be here. And they don't want to go. I don't want them to go," Walker said, holding back tears.
It's a reality leaving those, like newcome Brittany Clapp, anxious.
"But you think about it and say, 'well I can get another job.' I have my master's degree. There's options for me, but there are a lot less options for these kids and this isn't just employment for them -- it's their family," Clapp, who's a youth services specialist for CUPs, said.
A family, Shook says, she feels accountable for.
"I feel incredibly, personally responsible for making sure that every one of these kids has a job, not to mention my staff that would have to get laid off. I feel incredibly responsible that I have to make sure they have a job," Shook said.
Since the program began in 2012, CUPs has helped around 300 young people prepare for the workforce. BCYF says they'll make a decision on that funding some time this week.