There, But For the Grace of God, Go I
Rebecca Brown, known to her friends as Café, was a foodie before it was a badge of honor. Having operated restaurants, food concessions and having run seafood festivals around the country, she was a cinch to work in the kitchen at Camillus House a little over a year ago. Today, clients and residents alike are glad she’s here. Her soups are legendary, her reputation, impeccable.
On one particular afternoon while visiting Camillus House, we found out why. She is at ease in the kitchen, creating mouthwatering soups and bisques to feed the homeless clients who make their way to the Camillus dining hall each day for a home cooked meal. Seafood Bisque is her favorite recipe, chock full of donated salmon, lobster and crab claws. She also boasts a veggie and beef concoction, among others, that is all the rage according to those who have tasted it.
“It’s all made from scratch, with fresh vegetable stock,” Café said proudly, adding that she has been working in the Publix Super Markets Charities Kitchen at Camillus House since arriving about a year and a half ago. “I’ve always been in the kitchen,” she smiled. “I keep my life basic by volunteering, serving others, serving God and serving the community.”
Her journey to service and Camillus House was not a smooth road. Café not only works in the kitchen, she is a Camillus resident, living in the Labre Place unit in Miami. She credits her success to her desire to change, her entrepreneurial spirit and the grace of God. Just two years ago, Café was finishing up a 5 year prison sentence at Homestead Correctional Facility in South Miami Dade County stemming from a domestic abuse charge.
“I grew up in a violent household,” Café explained. “I was attracted to men like my father. I went from victim to aggressor and ended up serving time. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.” It was in prison that Café found a path to change…and where she received her nickname, Café. “In prison, I was going by the name Brown, but there were many women with that name,” she laughed. So, Café, Brown in Spanish, was born. And it stuck.
Her rehabilitation was born of a burning desire to change from being self-serving to serving others. She began taking Christianity classes, substance abuse classes and anger management classes. “I started to listen to the voice in my body and it was God speaking to me,” she said, adding that she had plenty of time to ponder and reflect.
But it was the Lady’s Empowerment in Action Program (LEAP) that she says aided her the most in her quest to better herself, and get her into Camillus House.
Jobs and housing are difficult to obtain for offenders, Café said. So with about a year left to her sentence, she began looking ahead at life on the outside.
“LEAP had a re-entry for entrepreneurs program and I was looking for that,” she explained. “After three interviews I was one of 12 selected to be in the program. Included in the program criteria was a written business plan.” Cafe drew up her plan, a project dedicated to domestic violence. She created a purple and white wristband that she gave a tracking number. That way she could follow where it went online. “It was a way to pay it forward and see wherever it went.” Her entrepreneurial ideas didn’t stop there. She currently heads a non-profit project of selling homemade soaps, with all proceeds donated to LEAP. Café also now sits on the LEAP Board of Directors.
It was through LEAP that Café found her way to Camillus House. “When you first get out, you don’t want to venture out,” Café said. “Camillus is a safe environment where you can get clothes you need, even toiletries. It takes the stress off. You don’t need anything while you’re here.”
Currently, Café is also a Camillus client and a resident of the Labre Place community, a Camillus property. She rides her bike to work at Camillus, where she also practices yoga and Zumba; she swims in the ocean and writes her devotionals daily. Currently, Café has a series of 365 devotionals she has written on subjects ranging from patience and trust to love and dealing with life’s hardships. Her online followers receive one each day at 5am. It’s all part of serving others and aiding the homeless, adding, “I want to give them courage and hope, and I let the Holy Spirit lead the topics, whatever subject comes to mind.”
Aside from her love of food and cooking, she is pursuing her theological studies with the Jacksonville Baptist Seminary online. She wants to minister to the homeless, and says she is letting God lead her as she prays for them; “I want to let them know they are loved, and encourage them to come to Camillus House.”
Camillus has had quite an impact on Café and “I’m grateful for it. I would like to see people look at a homeless person as somebody’s child, and they need love”. In her mind, Camillus is charity, “and for that I’m grateful.”