Michigan coffee shop offers adult offenders a second chance

American Hero

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD-TV) — A new coffee shop in Kalamazoo is more than meets the eye. It’s an expansion of the vocational programming at KPEP, an organization that offers adult offenders an alternative to jail time.

One of the workers said it has helped her in more ways than one.

“I really want to encourage the students because I’ve been where they are and I know what they’re going through, but I also know there’s a better way,” said Jennifer Heath, a barista at Walnut & Park Coffee Shop on Ransom Street.

Heath is also a 2018 KPEP graduate.

“I was addicted to heroin and I was making really poor choices. I got a possession charge and got sentenced to KPEP,” said Heath.

KPEP puts adult offenders through an eight-week program focusing on either hospitality or learning a trade, helping them find jobs, housing and other options to get back on their feet.

“It’s huge. It’s really huge. Every day I’m thankful. It’s a constant reminder working with the students where I came from,” said Heath.

“We work on the front end to try and keep people from going to prison in the first place, so we’re sort of an alternative sentencing option, and then on the other side of the prison sentence we help people transition back to the community,” said William DeBoer, the president/CEO of KPEP.

Heath is now working as an instructor for the program.

“I do get so busy and wrapped up in the everyday thing that I kind of like and need that reminder in my life just to keep on track myself,” said Heath.

She said she hopes to inspire others that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

“People say that I’m lucky, but everyone is given the same opportunities, and just take full advantage of everything you’re given and there is a better way,” said Heath.

You can learn more about the program at KPEP.com.

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