Breaktime Cafe (Harvard cafe & donut shop employing young adults experiencing homelessness)

Take a break, while helping to break the cycle of homelessness.

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Website or social media url(s) (optional):

Website: Instagram: @breaktimeboston Facebook: /breaktimeboston Linkedin: /breaktimeboston

Date Started

January 15, 2018

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Start-Up (first few activities have happened)

1. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project? NOTE: All applications must include a 1 minute video that answers: “I am stepping up to make change because..."

Our journey started when my cofounder Connor and I volunteered at the Y2Y (youth) Shelter at Harvard University and spoke with guests who were the same age as us, but had vastly different life experiences. We were dumbfounded that right outside the gates of Harvard, the wealthiest university, were young adults struggling to even find a place to live. As Harvard students, we feel the responsibility to ensure that other young people just like us have some of the same opportunities for a stable life and economic mobility. While there are organizations in the area that do great work trying to provide these young adults with temporary shelter, we are determined to find a longer-term solution. We were moved by our conversations with guests about their desire for routine and purpose in their lives through meaningful employment and that is exactly the gap we will fill.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Young adults experiencing homelessness face unique challenges when finding a job. Access: Entry level job employers require permanent home address to even apply (a paradoxical trap!) and are less likely to hire the homeless due to negative stigma. Experience: homeless young adults often have fewer opportunities for work experience and education. Flexibility: Companies are not tolerant when it comes to missed days or personal challenges.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Breaktime Cafe is opening in Fall 2018 in Harvard Square to provide meaningful employment, effective vocational training, and career advising to young adults experiencing homelessness around Harvard University. We partner with existing local food wholesale providers (including Union Square Donuts and Boston’s Best Coffee Roasters), which ensures quality products and lowered fixed costs. Through partnerships with local non-profits (such as the Y2Y Harvard Square Shelter and Bridge Over Troubled Waters) and Harvard University, Breaktime will facilitate a comprehensive vocational training program to help launch careers. We are also a second-step employer for homeless young adults who went through vocational training programs through other non-profits, but are still looking for stable, supportive employment. Breaktime will match each employee with a volunteer career mentor who can assist them with anything from creating a strong resume to setting career and life goals. We will leverage the large network of nearby students to develop a backup employee system so that we can act with reasonable flexibility if an employee has an emergency, while still being fully staffed.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

These young adults aged 18-24 (many of whom identify as LGBTQ+) that we will work with are looking for work, but may not even be allowed to apply or may not be considered for a job based on their housing status or their lack of experience. This is where Breaktime comes in. Our non-profit partners (such as shelters) will refer us to young adults experiencing homelessness who are willing and able to work. As a sales associate, they not only gain on-the-job experience and skills, but can also develop strong interpersonal skills as well as receive additional vocational training and career mentorship. After successfully working for a year, these employees may have the opportunity to become assistant managers or will be assisted in finding their next job.

5. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

By partnering with wholesale providers, Breaktime can begin operating and employing people quicker and at a lower upfront cost. We can also serve as a second-step employer and build off of successful vocational programs that already exist while adding our own programming. Beyond direct employment, the cafe is a unique venue to foster interaction between community members and employees to reduce the stigma around homelessness. We are uniquely working with young adults because they are our peers and are at a critical stage where additional support can change the course of their lives.

6. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

While our location does not open until the Fall, we have already established (and continue to grow) our network of qualified career advisors who we can pair with local shelter guests even before we operate. Furthermore, we have already established numerous partnerships with food vendors, committing to selling their products, and with non-profits, committing to building off of their programming and/or hiring people that they work with. Finally, we have already engaged many students in everything from design, marketing, fundraising, filming videos, and developing operations methods. While it may be easy to measure success by number of employees or the wages we pay, we firmly believe that stable jobs and vocational training can positively impact the course of our employees’ entire lives and that Breaktime can also influence community members’ beliefs and actions around homelessness.

7. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

We are opening our first location on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, MA (right near Harvard University) this Fall! While preparing for this open, we are focusing on the buildout of the store, fundraising, continuing to engage career mentors, develop our vocational training programing and support, marketing, and beginning to actually recruit employees. While we have a wonderful team of students and mentors/supporters who inspire us, we would definitely benefit from additional expertise, support, and guidance to not only make Breaktime a reality, but to do it right.

8. Future Support: What are the resources needed to make your vision a reality?

We have already received grants as winners of the 2018 Harvard College Innovation Challenge and the 2018 Harvard Innovation and Ventures in Education Competition and have received thousands of dollars in private contributions. In addition, we have a website ( and a location. While we have done all that we can to minimize building costs, we still need to raise more funds. We are also continuing to look for mentors to assemble a strong Board of Advisors to provide guidance on this ambitious project.

9. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Mentors/advisors
  • Donations less than $100
  • Donations between $100-$1k
  • Donations between $1k-$5k

10. Ripple Effect: Please share some ideas of how you could partner with other changemakers or involve other young people as leaders in making a difference.

The Ripple Effect is at the heart of Breaktime and our goals. Rather than reinventing everything from scratch, Breaktime is bringing together various local food vendors to expand their business as well as augment their social impact (and enable them to become changemakers themselves). Furthermore, by becoming a direct employer of young adults experiencing homelessness, Breaktime expands on the amazing programs and services already provided by local shelters and non-profits. We have formed these partnerships by directly reaching out to people and inspiring them through our story, our clear identification of the problem, and our unique, feasible, local, and impactful solution. We make it a habit to look open-mindedly for new groups, businesses, and young people to work with (prioritizing diversity in products, services, leadership, and ideas) and already work with groups (including art groups) that while seemingly unrelated can actually make for wonderful creative collaborations. Breaktime is conceived and carried out by passionate and action-driven students and young people and we are always looking to involve others who hope to take action and make a difference themselves.

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Social media
  • Word of mouth


Join the conversation:

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Tony, we like that you also support LGBT. Great idea! - Harper and Maggie

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