Spokane, Washington – Local foodies may not recognize the name Spokane East Side Reunion, but they most likely have heard of Fresh Soul, the restaurant owned and operated by Michael Brown on the corner of East Fifth Avenue and Fiske Street.
This restaurant plays a key part in Spokane East Side Reunion, or SERA, which recently received funding from the Avista Foundation.
“The restaurant is where we have the job training program,” Brown said. “We take kids into a 12-week internship, which includes two weeks of training classes teaching them proper etiquette, how to be a host in the restaurant and how to properly serve people.”
Brown said the class also includes a financial piece where interns learn about basic personal financial skills, such as balancing a bank account and how to set goals for savings.
“They work ten weeks in the restaurant, where they get paid minimum wage,” Brown said. “When the ten weeks are over, we have a big family gathering and celebration for those who graduated.”
About 50 young people have gone through the program since the restaurant opened in the summer of 2018. Brown opened Fresh Soul (3029 E. Fifth Ave.) on a shoestring budget, with the help of donations from the City of Spokane and Lowe’s – the city put a new roof on the building and improved the street landscape on Fifth Avenue, and the menu of traditional southern food quickly became a hit.
SERA also hosts a basketball camp every summer in Underhill Park every summer for youth ages 5 to 15. This camp also features speakers from Gonzaga, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Department and local business leaders.
Brown said he wanted to use his restaurant background to give back to the community, and the Fresh Soul program now always has a waiting list of five to seven young people.
“The program teaches them a lot about restaurant work, but also timeliness and other skills that they need to get and keep a job,” Brown said. He added that SERA aims to support the graduates of the Fresh Soul program all the way to college.
“We don’t just drop them after the program is over,” Brown said. “We keep supporting them. The goal is to get them to college.”
He added that he is grateful for the many local sponsors who keep the program going.
“We have such good support,” Brown said. “The better our fundraising goes, the more kids we can get through our program.”
At Avista, we recognize our unique position gives us the chance to contribute in an impactful way and make a real difference in people's lives. Since 2002, the Avista Foundation has made grants totaling over $13 million to organizations that support vulnerable and limited income populations, education, and economic and cultural vitality. For more information on grant applications and geographical areas covered, please visit avistafoundation.com.