he businesses that line Telegraph and Euclid avenues seem like extensions of campus. After all, it’s just a simple walk across the street to get anything from coffee to burritos to frozen yogurt. Some of these Berkeley businesses are as common to our college experiences as Dwinelle or Evans Hall. Whether, it’s getting coffee from Brewed Awakening every morning, waiting in the overflowing line at Chipotle or enjoying Menchie’s on the first truly warm day of the semester, we come to think of these businesses as integral to our college lives. What is for UC Berkeley students a story of college, however, is for others a story of redemption.
To fully understand, we must leave Telegraph and Euclid for a moment and travel up the fire trails to the Berkeley Hills, where we find the New Bridge Foundation, a nonprofit rehabilitation center that offers integrated chemical dependency and mental health treatment to adults recovering from alcohol and/or drug addiction. At this residential site people can enroll in 3- to 9-month programs where they can learn how to cope with their addiction and maintain sobriety.
During their fifth month of a program, clients begin to re-enter society by finding a job. With the help of the New Bridge staff, they draft resumes and roleplay interviews. While it’s no surprise that some employers may be wary about hiring former drug addicts, New Bridge has worked throughout the years to cultivate relationships with local Berkeley businesses, creating an extensive network of occupational options for their clients.
“Being that clients don’t have cars or anything, we try to stay local. It just makes it easier to find work if they work local. One client will refer another client and we end up having a good reputation to a lot of businesses in the area,” explained Richard Lewis, the milieu supervisor at New Bridge.
Since the 40 years New Bridge has been serving people they’ve managed to help clients find employment at a myriad of Berkeley businesses, from Shattuck Hotel to Phil’s Sliders. Sitting down with Menchie’s owner, David Aucella, it was clear why New Bridge’s partnerships are so successful and why Aucella remains open to hiring more people from New Bridge.
“It’s a reliable workforce in that they are close to where we are and there is a demand, or a need, for them to be able to get back into the workforce,” Aucella said.
Aucella admits his initial hesitations in hiring those from New Bridge. However, he soon realized they were easy workers to trust.
“They continually test them for drugs and alcohol and they have to stay clean in order to remain in the program,” he explained. “So they’re doing all the hard work over there and they just need somebody to give them a chance.”
For example, the first employee Aucella ever hired from New Bridge remained clean and went onto become a world-class body builder. While not everyone’s path is so successful, the program and partnerships remain an embodiment of the Berkeley community outside the realm of campus life.
While students may see Menchie’s as the destination for waffle cones and sprinkles after a hard day of class, the frozen yogurt shop also serves as an incredible opportunity for those coping with their addictions.
“They learn for the first time that they can actually function in society in a different way,” Lewis said. “They don’t have to do the things they were doing at first.”
These circumstances transformed the employer-employee relationship at Menchie’s. “It was much more intimate because I knew their personal problems and knew what they were working through, so we would often talk about it,” Aucella said. “It’s a tough road that they have to live every single day of their life. The monkey doesn’t go away for them.”
It’s this sympathetic understanding between Aucella and his former New Bridge employees that really showcases the personal betterment that can come out of a community rooting for one another and helping each other out.
Oftentimes as students we forget the other stories that reside in Berkeley, we forget that “Berkeley community” doesn’t just encompass “campus community.” New Bridge and businesses such as Menchie’s show us the other community that exists side-by-side to student life, sometimes overlapping with it, giving full form to the city of Berkeley.
Contact Marlena Trafas at [email protected].