GLENDALE : Firm Turning At-Risk Youths Into Merchants

A Glendale espresso manufacturing company is turning junior high students and gang members into coffee merchants.

Piacere International, situated in the city's industrial section near Disney Imagineering, has partnered with a local nonprofit group, "We Care . . . For Youth," in an effort to keep adolescents out of gangs by giving them business opportunities.

Dick Forquer, president and founder of Piacere, is providing about 50 13- and 14-year-olds from Toll Middle School the training in coffee bean sales that the teen-agers can use to run their own coffee distributorships.

Piacere, which Forquer--a former East Los Angeles gang member--founded in his 50s, manufactures espresso machines and roasts beans grown on the company's coffee plantations in Mexico.

In the training sessions, at-risk students learn how to build clientele. They are required after operating their distributorship for several months to turn over their accounts to another student of their choosing, Forquer said.

This will cause a "domino effect" in the community, allowing more and more youths who are in gangs or considering joining one to own their own business--taking them off the streets--he said.

Linda Maxwell, co-founder of the 2-year-old "We Care . . . For Youth," said giving at-risk students a business of their own increases their self-esteem and provides them with a sense of future.

"Piacere provides a lab for what we try to teach these kids--to look to themselves for support and not to gangs," Maxwell said.

"We Care . . . For Youth"--based in Glendale--has helped more than 900 junior high students both in the Glendale Unified and Los Angeles Unified school districts who were in gangs or at risk of joining a gang, Maxwell said.

The organization teaches youth to recognize prejudice and to fight racism, as well as how to dress for business and how to rely on, and believe in, themselves, she said.

Sandy Banner, assistant principal at Toll Middle School, said teachers and parents have seen students take lessons--including one that teaches youth how to talk through problems--learned in the program back into the classroom.

"I can only use terms like incredible, marvelous and fantastic to describe this program," Banner said.

Lisa Sexton, 14, said skills she learned in a basic job training program provided by "We Care . . . For Youth" helped her get a job as a cashier at the Los Angeles Zoo.

"The program showed me not to depend on anyone, because basically you have to rely on yourself, you have to start managing your money and your time," Lisa said.

Piacere plans a fund-raiser Sunday to benefit "We Care . . . For Youth." Funds collected from the $30 ticket price will be donated to the nonprofit group.

More than 300 are expected to attend the dessert-and-espresso party, to be held from 4 to 6 p.m. in the parking lot at Piacere International Headquarters, 1101 Air Way in Glendale.

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