Lisa Miccolis met Ephraim on a trip to South Africa in 2008. A 16-year-old boy from Zimbabwe, Ephraim had left his family and home at the age of 14 in hopes of finding a better future.
For the first few years, Ephraim was able to recieve the housing and care he needed through local programming. But once Ephraim turned 18, that support system disappeared. In a matter of days he had nowhere and no one to turn to.
Facing deportation, Ephraim was forced to make a dangerous journey back to Zimbabwe. During that time Miccolis tried her best to keep in touch with him, offering him as much advice and emotional support as she could, but it was often risky.
“There were many times when I really wasn’t 100 percent sure whether the person on the other line was actually Ephraim,” Miccolis said. “So we came up with a passcode. I asked him what his favorite animal was and he said the elephant. He asked me mine and I said the monkey and from then on, we used that to kind of verify his safety.”
Miccolis’ experience with Ephraim opened her eyes to the hardships fostered youth face at home and abroad.
Facing the stats
There are approximately 400,000 children in foster care in the U.S. each year. While many are eventually adopted or reunited with family, about 30,000 “age out” of the foster care program yearly. Of that 30,000, 40 percent will experience homelessness. Many fall into poor health, unemployment, and incarceration. Less than 3 percent will earn a college degree.
It was these staggering statistics that brought Miccolis to found The Monkey and The Elephant, a nonprofit cafe aiming to serve former foster youth by offering jobs, life skills and training in a supportive, community-driven environment.
“That period of time when you’re learning to become completely independent can be really tough,” Miccolis said. “But for most of us, we can just pick up the phone and call our parents. For fostered youth, it’s not that straightforward… Not knowing where to turn can be the hardest part. Ultimately I want this —The Monkey and The Elephant — to be the support these youths and young adults need.”
Miccolis, who has been working as a barista and cafe manager since 2007, first opened The Monkey and The Elephant as a pop-up shop in the Italian Market in Nov. 2012. The cafe is currently operating out of a more permanent location in the Transfer Station in Manayunk. Miccolis hopes to open a brick-and-mortar storefront by the end of this year.
Working with local roasters, The Monkey and The Elephant serves pour over coffee, espressos, teas, artisan popcorns and cupcakes.
“It’s been a little difficult trying to reestablish myself in a new space and gathering a new following, but I see it happening. Having our presence known, sharing our knowledge and striking up curiosity is what’s most important right now,” Miccolis said.