Former NFL Pro-Bowler Shaun Alexander is in Las Vegas for another Super Bowl, but this time to promote a cause he believes will change lives for young Americans exiting the juvenile justice system.
“If you asked me… why do I feel like I’m on this planet, I would say, I feel like I’m here to awaken people’s God given identity, their talents, or their assignment,” Alexander told Fox News Digital ahead of Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Alexander, now an Ambassador with the Stand Together Foundation, has thrown his weight behind several charitable causes since retiring from the NFL after the 2008 season, and is now supporting a new cause he and Stand Together are in Las Vegas to promote.
That cause is Café Momentum, an award-winning nonprofit restaurant originally launched in Dallas that is teamed almost entirely by young people who have been placed in the juvenile justice system. The restaurant provides critical support to those youth through a 12-month paid internship program that not only affords them an opportunity for employment, but provides them with life-changing guidance and helps them build critical skills. Along the way, these young Americans could even find themselves set up for careers in the culinary world.
The model has so far worked with over 1,200 youth, and Alexander believes it is superior to traditional methods of guiding young people exiting the justice system.
“Recidivism is 45-50% around the country, with us it’s like 11%,” Alexander said.
Café Momentum is the brainchild of award-winning chef Chad Houser, who launched the restaurant’s flagship Dallas location in 2015. Houser told Fox News Digital that he came up with the idea after volunteering to go out to the Dallas County Juvenile Detention Facility to teach a class on making ice cream. Once there, the chef learned that any preconceived notions he may have had about the young people at the facility were wrong.
“The moment I met them I realized I had stereotyped them, judged and labeled them, and I was wrong. I thought I was a better person than that, but when confronted with the reality face to face… I was wrong,” Houser said. “I spent three and a half hours working with the youth to make ice cream, but what was more important was listening to them.”
Houser said that two days after that ice cream class, young people were bused from the detention facility to a farmers’ market to compete in a competition against college culinary students, where one of his students won the entire contest.
That experience led him on a path toward founding Café Momentum, which has now expanded to Pittsburgh and has plans for expansion to Atlanta and beyond.
Houser and Alexander are at the Super Bowl to promote the concept this week. The duo have been joined by former NFL linebacker and Stand Together Ambassador Dhani Jones. Jones, who played 10 NFL seasons and was also a National Champion and 3-time All-Big Ten standout at Michigan, told Fox News Digital that he was blown away by the cause of Café Momentum.
“These kids have an amazing opportunity where they’re surrounded by people who believe in them and empower them,” Jones said.
One of those young people was Tristyn Williams, who first entered the Café Momentum program in May 2019 at 15-years-old. When she entered the program, Williams was newly released from juvenile detention and three months pregnant. She left the program in 2020 as a high school graduate and began carving out a career path for herself. Today, she is one of several people working as a Café Momentum ambassador, spreading the word about what the program has done for her personally.
“Café Momentum has offered me a life-changing support system and opportunities I never thought possible. Because they believed in me, I now believe in myself,” Williams told Fox News Digital. “My goal is to be a positive role model to other young people who may have faced similar adversity in their life and inspire them to love themselves and follow their dreams because all youth deserve to dream and feel loved at the same time.”
Williams joined Alexander, Houser, and Jones in Las Vegas for the Super Bowl, where Café Momentum set up a booth to raise awareness about the program and serve free boxed lunches to members of the media there for America’s largest sporting event.
That awareness will hopefully allow the program the support it needs to continue its expansion, Alexander said, noting that he hopes to someday see a Café Momentum in all 32 NFL cities.
Obtaining that goal will help the organization reach the more than 60,000 young people who pass through the juvenile justice system, Houser added.
“Data and stats show what’s going to happen when they come out, and it’s not a positive path,” Houser said. “We’ve created a new model from the same population of young people that creates very different results.”
And for diners who want to help support the program and have a meal at one of Café Momentum’s locations, Houser made clear people can expect a great experience along with their generosity.
“Anyone that walks in our restaurant is going to have a great meal with great service,” Houser said. “What they’re also going to realize immediately is that these young men and young women that are in our program can and will rise to whatever level of expectation that is set for them. We just have to provide them with the tools, resources, and opportunities to do so.”