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Teresa Goines of ‘Old Skool Cafe’: “Being Ambitious is a Good Thing!”

Being Ambitious is a Good Thing! Nay-sayers will always be there, but ambitious people change the world!Don’t be discouraged if people shoot down your ideas and say things like “Wow! You’re really ambitious!” Allow it to strengthen your resolve and strengthen your vision. As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social […]

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Being Ambitious is a Good Thing! Nay-sayers will always be there, but ambitious people change the world!Don’t be discouraged if people shoot down your ideas and say things like “Wow! You’re really ambitious!” Allow it to strengthen your resolve and strengthen your vision.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Teresa Goines, the founder of San Francisco’s Old Skool Cafe.

Teresa Goines is the founder and CEO of Old Skool Café. Her experience working with gang-affiliated youth, as a juvenile correction officer, impacted her life in a way that changed her forever. Their stories gave her an in-depth understanding of how many young people end up on such a destructive path and compelled her to find a solution to the hopelessness she saw in the lives of incarcerated and forgotten youth.

Ms. Goines’ mission is to permanently break the cycle of incarceration by giving young people hope, economic opportunities and training in a supportive environment where they can grow emotionally, physically and spiritually. From this passion, the concept of Old Skool Cafe was born in 2004.

Ms. Goines has received several awards and recognition for her work with Old Skool Cafe and the Bayview Community: 2013 CNN Hero Award, 2012 Wells Fargo Community Spirit Award, 2011 Bank of America — Neighborhood Excellence Local Hero Award, 2011 Westmont Global Service Alumni Award, FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award, 2008 Jefferson Award and 2006 San Francisco Foundation Koshland Fellowship Award.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/cc07e341f66765b85b57ed091dbfb70d


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

At 22, while working as a corrections officer in juvenile hall, I heard the many stories of incarcerated youth — of their traumatic childhoods, extinguished hope and lack of opportunity — which created this urgency within me to find a better solution than the current system of incarcerating our children. One story that struck me in particular was that of a young man I was transporting from one lock-down facility to another. Because of the traffic in Los Angeles, we had hours to talk. He told me that some of his earliest memories were of being a drug runner for his father at age three. He would be given a bag of “something” and told to take it down to the neighbor’s house. He said that even though he was too young to understand what was going on, his little spirit didn’t feel good about it. But when you’re three years old, you do what your dad says.

Imagine growing up with that as your example. Imagine the trauma that goes alongside that. It stopped surprising me that children were committing crimes and getting locked up. The generational cycle kept going. There had to be a way to disrupt this cycle. It needed to be different, sustainable, and hopeful. That’s how the vision of Old Skool Cafe was born.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

In 2014, I got the unexpected news that the owners of our restaurant building planned to sell our space. They believed in and supported our mission, and wanted to give us the first opportunity to purchase the building. We had to come up with $600,000 in 30 days, after which they would put the building on the market. We knew we couldn’t afford rent anywhere else in the City, so we were facing a potential closure of our restaurant. I was still new to fundraising, and $600,000 was a challenge to raise in a year, let alone 30 days!

I was overwhelmed with sadness that our program could close and the heavy responsibility to keep that from happening. I am a person of faith and I wish I could say that I had faith throughout this crisis, but I absolutely did not! I spent the first 48 hours freaking out, and then remembered to breathe, pray, and surrender. I finally remembered that God loves these young people even more than I do and I could trust Him to provide. We are not meant to face life’s big challenges alone, and what followed for Old Skool Cafe was an incredible expression of community and collective support.

A few days later, I was speaking with a group of college students about my work with Old Skool Cafe. They asked me how I handle difficulties and challenges. Instead of sharing a challenge from my past, I decided to share this real-time struggle, a challenge that didn’t yet have a happy ending. Their response warmed my heart! This group of students I had just met decided to start a fundraiser with their friends and families. Their next stop was with the CEO of a local bank. During the Q&A, they spoke up about Old Skool and urged him to give us a loan. He couldn’t quite believe the coincidence because he’d just received an email from another supporter asking him to consider giving us a loan. He personally came down to the restaurant to meet with me and review our financials. We could possibly receive a loan… if we could come up with a sizable down payment.

Meanwhile, I had a meeting with a generous donor who believed deeply in our mission. We had only met once and she had recently donated, so I did not go into our meeting intending to ask for more money, I simply wanted to get to know her better as a friend and show my gratitude. Over coffee, she asked me to share more about my own story and an update on how everything was going at Old Skool. Like I would have shared with any friend, I told her about the enormous challenge we were facing. She looked at me and asked, “Teresa, why didn’t you tell me about the building and ask for support?” I laughed and reminded her about the part in the story where I didn’t know how to fundraise! Starting in that moment she graciously began mentoring me in large-scale fundraising. She donated the capital we needed for a down payment, which meant that the local bank was willing to offer us a loan for the other half.

Other Old Skool supporters stepped in to donate and help negotiate the contract. This incredibly generous and kind community of support made it possible to buy our building and save our program! To this day, I am in awe when I think about all of the people that came together to help us realize our dream within such a short space of time and the impact that we can have when we pool our financial and social capital for good.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In the early days when I was running Old Skool out of my house, I hadn’t developed a lot of the structure yet. My home became like a drop-in center for youth, a safe place where they knew they were welcome, loved and could receive mentorship and training. Not only did we do cooking, hospitality and life skills workshops here, we also did pop-up dinner events here. I wanted the youth to feel at home, but soon learned that a home without a chore wheel was a recipe for disaster!

We would move all of my furniture to make space for multiple tables to create a full dining experience with a 5 course meal. This meant a lot of set up, dishes and clean up — think of how your kitchen looks after preparing Thanksgiving. When the night started to come to an end and the guests were leaving, the youth would stare at the piles of dishes in the kitchen and one by one they’d start to say, “uh… Mamma T, I gotta go, my ride is here!” No one wanted to be the last man standing!

I would be left in my house with dishes piled everywhere and my home a total mess with zero help to clean up! I would be so exhausted after all the work that went into the event, that I would decide to just deal with it in the morning. Funny lesson learned: teenagers are not sticking around to do dishes unless it’s part of the program.

I am grateful for those experiences early on that taught me the importance of setting clear expectations and structure so that we can function as a stronger team, where everyone has a role to play and is needed to do their part.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Old Skool Cafe increases the lifetime opportunity for youth and the broader community. Graduating youth have gone on to secure college degrees, skilled employment and have become mentors for other young people in the community who are struggling to find their way. Our program also significantly reduces recidivism rates which contributes to a healthier, more stable society for all.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Jonathan came to Old Skool immediately after being released from jail and, like many of our youth, was looking for stability and a better life. He remembers Old Skool as a place where he never felt judged, where he was able to develop new skills, and where he was encouraged to set ambitious goals for himself. Early on, I remember him declaring, “I’m going to be an entrepreneur.” He had a dream of opening his own barbershop and was determined to make it happen. He was so determined that he would cut hair until 6pm and work as a bartender until 3am to save up the money needed to start his own business.

He shared that there were times where he wanted to give up but he was able to draw on the tools that he had learned at Old Skool Cafe — resilience, setting goals and following through. After months of hard work and saving, he was able to open “Barberhood,” a thriving local salon, and provide employment to others, scaling his own impact, and the impact of the Old Skool program.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

No child dreams of spending their life behind bars, so when a young person starts to act out in destructive ways and commit crimes, that should be a warning sign that something is going wrong in their world and they need help and support. I want federal and local politicians to shift resources from incarceration to root cause solutions that provide the support, education and opportunities young people need to heal and become productive members of our community.

On a national level:

  1. Re-allocate federal dollars used to incarcerate youth towards programs like Old Skool Cafe that will provide training and wrap-around support to youth as an alternative to incarceration.
  2. Reform local education funding so that young people living in low-income neighborhoods receive the same quality of education as children growing up in high-income neighborhoods, from pre-K through college.
  3. Change local and national laws to make incarceration a last resort for our children instead of the first response.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

For me leadership is about inspiring and supporting others to step into the light and shine to their fullest potential. I am constantly trying to work myself out of a job!

Being a “youth-run” social enterprise is one of our core values at Old Skool Cafe. This means that the youths’ voice and leadership is expected. I built this organization to have youth at the helm, leading in all aspects of the enterprise, valuing their voices and ideas. Our young people are a shining example of what is possible when youth are seen, heard, valued, and invested in. These are youth that could very well be sitting in a jail cell during these pivotal years of growth and development. At Old Skool, they are given daily opportunities to lead, mentor, make choices, serve others, fail in a safe environment, and train up the next group of young people. So to me, my leadership role is all about reaching a hand out and then boosting them up.

The best part of my job is watching our young people grow to be self-aware, kind, confident, and empathetic. One example is Desiree. Desiree entered our program at 15. She’d been assaulted by a gang in the basement of her apartment building. She was living in an unstable situation with her grandmother. As her life grew more difficult, Desiree began losing hope and the will to live. She was shut down. My role as a leader was to hold up a new mirror for Desiree, one that helped her to see the truth about her value and potential that she was having a hard time seeing in herself. Through mentorship and relationship building, we got to affirm Desiree, see her confidence grow and watch her shine. As an employee, she got the opportunity to constantly prove to herself that she could overcome challenges and excel. Today, Desiree is an amazing mom of two precious children. She is our office administrator and floor manager, mentoring the current youth in the program that she helped pave the way for. Now she is paying it forward, inspiring and supporting others to step into their light and shine to their fullest potential.

Now a part of the next generations of leaders, Desiree is helping the youth in our program to see the potential in their own lives. She’s making a generational shift by providing a safe, healthy, loving home environment for her kids. That’s leadership to me.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1.) Collaboration is Key. We all need to be a part of something meaningful and bigger than ourselves. By working in collaboration and joining forces with others, the impact we can make together is much greater than what we can do alone. I love the quote, “If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.” — African Proverb

Our youth need jobs, but that is just one piece of the puzzle. They also need stability and support in the other areas of their lives. To this day, a critical part of how we serve our youth is by working together with other organizations that are incredible experts in the services they provide. This allows our youth to benefit from an entire community of support and not just from ours.

One of our excellent partners is 100% College Prep. They provide academic support to help students graduate high school and get into college. Our hands are already full running a workforce training program inside of an operating restaurant. It would be crazy to try to also provide tutoring, SAT prep, financial aid help and college tours, when there is already an amazing program that does all of these things well!

A few of our other incredible partners are: Sunset Youth Services provides case management and barrier removal to help young people break patterns of violence. Ripple Effect 22 provides our youth with life-skills and positive adult mentorship and Westside Community Services/Ajani provides vital mental health services for our youth, free of charge. I am a huge fan of these organizations and it’s an honor to serve together with them.

If we focus on doing our core mission well and link arms with others who do their core mission well, then those we serve can benefit from a village of support instead of one organization trying to be all things to all people. Plus, it’s more fun and less stress to do this work together. “Many hands makes light work”— John Heywood

2.) Hire people who are positive as well as passionate — Relentlessly Positive & Hopeful!

It’s important to fill your team with people who look for the good in others and in situations. Life will throw you lots of lemons, you need a team who responds by rolling up their sleeves to make lemonade out of those lemons. It’s critical to hire people who look for the possibilities not the problems, in each challenge. (- Graham Cooke)

A good example is this past year 2020 which has been incredibly challenging for everyone and full of lemons! For us at Old Skool Cafe, the experience of in-person dining with live jazz, is at the heart of who we are and how we provide job training for our youth. The shut down due to the pandemic was outside of our control, so we had to shift our mindset to look for all the ways we could make lemonade out of the pile of lemons that just kept coming.

Our amazing team pulled together, rose to the challenge and made some pretty fabulous lemonade! With a positive mindset, the crisis became an opportunity to try new methods of training, to develop new income streams, and to involve the youth in the fundraising and marketing of our business. We are passionate about our mission and shutting down was not an option. Because our youth have been impacted significantly more than most people by the events of this past year, it has been Even More Important that our team surround them with as much encouragement, positivity and hope as possible. So look for those Positive People….It’s a Super Power!

3.) Trust your gut, don’t assume that everyone else knows better than you….

When I first started Old Skool Cafe, I had no business or non-profit experience and had only been a waitress for four months when I was 19…so basically barely any restaurant experience either. I had to learn everything from finance to marketing and how to structure the social enterprise. Everyday was like getting my masters in a new subject! I am incredibly grateful for all the people who were willing to mentor me and answer all of my questions along. However, it was hard for me to step out of that mindset of “I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m not an expert” to finally realize I actually did know what I was doing and had been doing it for more than ten years! Changing that inner dialogue was not only important for my personal growth but also for the confidence needed to grow the organization.

So if you have a crazy, out of the box idea for a solution that is outside of your field of experience, don’t discount it because you don’t have all the details figured out. Many Entrepreneurs and Leaders are figuring it out as they go, so go for it and you’ll learn as you go too!

4.) Being Ambitious is a Good Thing! Nay-sayers will always be there, but ambitious people change the world!Don’t be discouraged if people shoot down your ideas and say things like “Wow! You’re really ambitious!” Allow it to strengthen your resolve and strengthen your vision.

You’ve heard “If you build it, they will come.” In my experience, you often have to show people and prove your concept repeatedly, before others will come and get behind it! Your idea may seem crazy,…until it’s not.

Many people thought I was overly ambitious to build a restaurant in a location that was known for violence and drug abuse right outside our doors. I knew it would be hard but I felt this was exactly the place where hope and light was needed, especially when led by young people from the community. Our audacious dream was for young people to help build Old Skool Cafe from the ground up, and prove a better model for responding to youth in crisis instead of building more jails. It took longer for my dream to come to fruition than I anticipated, but every one of their hope-filled smiles makes all the challenges worth it!

5.) Make a non-negotiable plan to Care for your Body, Spirit & Soul. As a founder or CEO, It’s easy to get sucked into working non-stop and feeling irresponsible when you do. To be honest, this is an area in which I still struggle. As a leader, if you break down physically, emotionally or spiritually, you are trying to lead and pour out from an empty tank — that benefits no one.

Create a plan for how you will care for yourself, ask for your inner circle friends/family to hold you accountable and then create that space on your calendar as the most important meetings that everything else in your calendar has to fit around. For me, it’s these 4 things:

  1. Making sure I take a sabbath day every week where I do absolutely zero tasks related to my work: no emails, phone calls, anything that puts my head back into the space of thinking about work.
  2. It’s also carving out a little time first thing in the morning to have my coffee with God to remember to trust and pray about everything instead of rushing into the day, trying to do everything in my own strength.
  3. Making time to connect and have fun with family and friends and dance salsa, swing or blues whenever possible
  4. Health & Fitness: Keeping a regular fitness routine complete with good nutrition, water and sleep!

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I want people to live out what I tell our youth every day: I see the gold in you and I want other people to see the gold in you too. Inside every single one of us are God-given gifts. Every single one of us has inherent, precious worth. What we look for, we find. Every day I look for the gold in the people around me. Whether that’s a young person recently released from jail or someone sitting across the table from me that disagrees with my politics. I think we could heal a lot of our hurt and misunderstanding if we began to actively look for the gold and then lift up that gold so others could see it too. It doesn’t solve everything, but honoring each other brings us all to the table.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Endurance cannot be rushed. Endurance is rarely easy or fun, but it will develop character and strength in you that fun is not designed to accomplish. When you are faced with a situation to endure, ease is not your goal. Your aim is to keep putting one foot in front of the other as you walk through the winds of adversity even as they howl around you and threaten to knock you down. The seasons of life that require you to endure and refuse to quit are the times when Wisdom, Courage, Fortitude and Faith are nourished in your soul. Without them you cannot fulfill the big dreams that are in your heart or accomplish the great plans God has for your life. These seasons will not last forever, so learn everything you can from them while they do. If you do not learn to endure, you will only know how to give up.” — TD Jakes

When I was going through a really hard season of life, my sister sent me a few pages from a book that she thought would encourage me to hang in there and not give up. These words in particular inspired me so much that I decided to create a painting of them and hang them up in my bathroom so that I would see them everyday as a reminder to not give up. Reading these words daily helped remind me to keep putting one foot in front of the other, especially on days when I couldn’t see light at the end of the tunnel.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to have a cup of coffee with Oprah Winfrey. One of my favorite memories with my mom was our “Coffee and Oprah” time together. I am inspired by the way Oprah has used her platform to help, encourage, and bring hope to so many people. She has chosen to shine light on issues that no one else talks about, making countless people feel less alone. Even though she has received intense criticism and attacks over the years, she has never allowed that to stop her mission or dim her light. I love her perseverance and commitment to pour love and hope into this world at every opportunity possible.

I am inspired by the way Oprah always used her platform to help, encourage, and bring hope to others. She shines a light on issues that no one else talks about. You feel less alone after watching Oprah. Even though she has received intense criticism and attacks over the years, she has never allowed that to stop her mission or dim her light. I love her perseverance and commitment.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

We are on all social media platforms @oldskoolcafe.

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