Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Dallas CASA’s Champion of Children Award Dinner will honor La La Land Kind Café founder

Dallas CASA’s Champion of Children Award Dinner will honor Francois Reihani, founder and CEO of the We Are One Project and La La Land Kind Café, with the Judge Barefoot Sanders Champion of Children Award for his commitment to children aging out of foster care.
The dinner will be on October 12 at Fairmont Dallas. All funds raised at the event will benefit children served by the agency.

Dallas CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) seeks to protect children and restore childhood through focused advocacy for children in the protective care of the state. The agency recruits, trains and supervises community members who serve as advocates for children who have experienced abuse or neglect and cannot safely live at home. Advocates work with children, their families, Child Protective Services caseworkers, attorneys, judges, educators, therapists, counselors and all other stakeholders on the case to achieve the best outcomes for child victims of abuse and neglect.

Reihani’s unique “cafes with a purpose” focus on providing job opportunities and training for former foster youth who have aged out of the system. Without the support of their families, young people exiting the child welfare system enter adulthood with little guidance and face increased risks of homelessness, food insecurity and unemployment, among many other challenges. At La La Land Kind Cafes, youth are offered job training and mentorship, giving them a solid jumping-off point for the rest of their lives.

“Francois is truly a one-in-a-million person,” said Kathleen M. LaValle, president and CEO of Dallas CASA. “Instead of seeing a big problem and turning away, he leaned in and looked for a solution. His cafes send a message to youth aging out of care that they matter, that there’s a place for them and they have bright futures.”

 

David Ambroz (left) and Francois Rehani (right). (Courtesy photos)

Reihani opened his first cafe on lower Greenville in 2019 when he was only 23 years old. Since then, he has expanded to 11 locations in multiple Texas cities and California. The cafes are known for their bright yellow coffee cups, nostalgic music and message of love. Customers are told “I love you” as they leave, and the company’s motto is “Kindness first, coffee second.” Reihani says he hires people for their personality, not their experience. He wants everyone to leave the cafes feeling uplifted and connected. The New York Times recently featured Reihani in a series about social media personalities who are doing positive things in their communities. The article reported that La La Land Kind Café’s “Drive-By Kindness” TikTok series has over 6.6 million followers.

The cafes have been a tremendous success. Reihani was named to Forbes magazine’s 30 Under 30 list for social impact in 2021, and he announced this summer he has secured $20 million from private investors, which will allow him to expand operations and open new locations across the United States.

Reihani first learned about the challenges youth aging out of foster care face at a continuing education program at Dallas CASA in 2016. After a happy childhood in Mexico, he did not know the difficulties youth in our community faced. At Dallas CASA, he heard from youth who had aged out of care and the struggles and pains they had endured navigating adulthood alone. At the time, he was co-founder of Pok The Raw Bar, a new restaurant concept in Dallas.

“That meeting changed the whole pathway of my life,” he said. “I could not understand how these youth had so little support. How was this even a problem? In Dallas, Texas?”
He went home and did more research, discovering the problem was larger and more daunting than he had imagined. But he was not deterred. He started with the We Are One Project nonprofit that provided mentoring, counseling, life skill classes and help with college and stable housing. When he recognized the need for the additional support of job placement, he opened La La Land Kind Café as a place to provide job training to former foster youth. The beginning was rocky, he admits.

“I wanted to solve the whole problem immediately, so I hired 12 foster youth and it was a disaster,” he said. “Due to their trauma, they needed so much more support than I’d imagined. But we regrouped and refocused and it started working. We’ve hit our stride now.”

He admits sometimes his ideas seem too big to believe, so it has been rewarding to see his dream take root, grow and bloom.

“Some people think I am delusional with some of my big ideas,” he said. “It wasn’t clear in the beginning that this whole thing would work or how. It’s hard enough to make money with a coffee shop, but to make money and support a nonprofit? I guess that was a little delusional, honestly. But it proves something I always say: ‘When you do the right thing, magic happens.’”

The Champion of Children Award Dinner is chaired by Stephanie and David Krahe, Retta A. Miller and Megan and Tom Sterquell. The honorary chairs are longtime friends and supporters of Dallas CASA, Fran and Mark Berg.

Guest speaker for the evening is David Ambroz, author of the heart wrenching 2022 memoir “A Place Called Home” which chronicles his childhood of living with his mentally ill mother and ultimately ending up in foster care. He experienced abuse, neglect, homelessness and poverty, but he ultimately found a way out. He was recognized by President Barack Obama as an American Champion of Change. He previously led corporate social responsibility for Walt Disney Television and has served as a California Child Welfare Council member. Today, he is a foster dad living in Los Angeles and working in corporate community engagement.

The Champion of Children Award is named in honor of Judge Barefoot Sanders, a revered United States District Court judge for the Northern District of Texas, past award recipient and steadfast supporter of Dallas CASA. The award is given annually to recognize community leaders who significantly improve the lives of youth in our community, particularly those whose lives have been marked by abuse, neglect or other adversity. His wife Jan Sanders served as a Dallas CASA volunteer advocate.

Award winners from the recent past include Jessica and Dirk Nowitzki, The Meadows Foundation, the Junior League of Dallas, NorthPark Center and the Dallas CASA Classic hosts Goldman Sachs, Pioneer Natural Resources and AT&T.

To learn about underwriting opportunities, contact Megan Dion (mdion@dallascasa.org).

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