Breaktime Cafe (Harvard coffee and donut shop employing young adults experiencing homelessness)

Take a break while breaking the cycle of homelessness.

Photo of Tony
4 1

Written by


  • I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
  • I am over 18 years of age
  • My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
  • I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
  • My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States


  • Man

Where are you making a difference?

Massachusetts: Cambridge (02138)

Focus Areas (required)

  • Business & Social Enterprise
  • Children & Youth
  • Peace & Harmonious Relations

Date Started


Organization Type

  • hybrid

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

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working towards the next level of expansion)


  • $250k - $500k

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)

Facebook URL

1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.

My cofounder Connor and I became close friends when we 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. We are determined to find a longer-term solution beyond just temporary shelter. We were moved by our conversations with guests about their desire for routine and purpose in their lives through meaningful employment.

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 how your solution is working to solve the problem.

Angela is a 20 year old young adult experiencing homelessness who identifies as LGBT. She is not allowed to apply or may not be considered for numerous job based on her housing status or her lack of experience. This is where Breaktime comes in. Angela’s shelter will refer her to Breaktime as an employee who is willing and able to work. As a sales associate, Angela will 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, Angela may have the opportunity to become an assistant manager or will be assisted in finding her next job.

5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?

Breaktime directly engages and supports young adults experiencing homelessness in the Harvard area, providing a longer-term solution to breaking the cycle of homelessness. We combine hands-on work experience, career and financial literacy training, and a support network of career mentors. Our purpose is to provide opportunity at a time in these young adults’ lives where support and meaningful work can positively change the course of the rest of their lives.

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • work status
  • age - youth
  • socio-economic class
  • other (please specify on question 5a)

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Breaktime builds off of vocational training programs conducted by great non-profits (like Youth on Fire and Bridge Over Troubled Waters) as a second-step employer: trainees of other programs are referred to Breaktime for stable employment and additional support towards gaining financial freedom and secure housing. We collaborate with local wholesale food providers, allowing us to operate more efficiently and with lower fixed costs (no food production) than other food establishments. Instead, we focus our energy and resources towards being the most supportive, compassionate employer.

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

Even though our first cafe doesn’t officially open until September, Breaktime has already had a huge impact on the Cambridge/Boston community. Namely, we’ve been able to leverage an entire community around our cause. We have around 15 volunteers directly working with us, some of whom have experienced housing instability. Also, we’ve partnered with 12 separate nonprofits and government organizations, setting up a clear opportunity for their clients to potentially get a job in our cafe. We’ve been featured by multiple local media organizations, and we reached around 50,000 people through our GoFundMe video. Through all of these efforts, we have rallied people around our cause, and--through 6 months of full-time research, fundraising, business planning, etc.--we have set up a clear path forward for a business that provides much-needed jobs to young adults experiencing housing instability.

8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?

Breaktime is unique in that we are not tied down to one location or food type. Instead, the core of our model is adaptability as we can partner with various local food vendors and organizations to promote our mission. Therefore, Breaktime can establish more physical locations more efficiently and at lower costs. Utilizing networks of universities is also a method to scale our impact. Currently we engage Harvard faculty and alumni as career mentors for young adults experiencing homelessness and can also inspire people from other universities to join this growing network.

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Organizational Growth
  • Franchising, Licensing, Accreditation
  • Trainings, Consultation
  • Campaigns

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Revenue generated from the Breaktime cafe sustains our programming and ability to employ. After 6 months of market research with a local food vendor, we have determined Breaktime is on track to be self-sustaining. Major costs include build out to open locations. Although we have received generous grants as winners of the Harvard College Innovation Challenge and Harvard Innovation and Ventures in Education Competition as well as private donations, more funds are needed to further our impact.

10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

The heart of Breaktime is its ability to involve highly passionate and action-oriented young adults. Both Connor and I are Harvard undergraduates working with a team of more than 10 other Harvard students. However, we recognize the value of mentorship and are currently growing our 5 person Board of Advisors (who represent the food, real estate, business, non-profit, and academic fields) even larger. In the future, Breaktime hopes to involve even more people specifically from the food industry.

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 - Which of the following categories do you identify with? (optional)

  • Asian (for example: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 - Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities? (optional)

  • Communities of color

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Ashoka page or contact

Evaluation results

4 evaluations so far

1. Overall, would you champion this entry as a excellent example to move forward to the next phase of the challenge and become a semifinalist?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 25%

Maybe - 75%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 100%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

3. Is this entry IMPACTFUL on financial wellbeing?

Yes, absolutely! - 25%

Yes/maybe - 25%

Maybe - 50%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Is this entry SUSTAINABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 0%

Maybe - 75%

Maybe/no - 25%

No - 0%

5. What are some of the HIGHLIGHTS of strengths of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 100%

Clarity of Model - 75%

Clarity of Writing - 50%

Idea Originality - 75%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 0%

Impact measurement - 0%

Impact Potential - 25%

Financial Sustainability - 0%

Team - 50%

Partnerships - 50%

Potential to scale - 0%

6. What are some of the areas for IMPROVEMENT of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 33.3%

Clarity of Model - 0%

Clarity of Writing - 0%

Idea Originality - 0%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 66.7%

Impact measurement - 33.3%

Impact Potential - 66.7%

Financial Sustainability - 100%

Team - 33.3%

Partnerships - 0%

Potential to scale - 100%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Audrey Smith

I noticed you have a working relationship with several nonprofits in your area. Well-done!

Photo of Tony

Thank you Audrey! Yes, working with existing non-profits is key to Breaktime as we work to build-off of and supplement their programming rather than unnecessarily recreate them.

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