WASHINGTON (February 9, 2006)– Craig Cuccia will receive the Year 2006 Sister Margaret Cafferty Development of People Award for his visionary work to train and employ at-risk teens and young adults in the hospitality industry in New Orleans. The national award is given annually by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the domestic anti-poverty program of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and will be presented here February 12.
Mr. Cuccia is the co-founder and executive director of Café Reconcile, a restaurant in the Central City neighborhood. It provides practical, on-the-job training, experience and life skills to local hospitality school students and other residents and helps them to develop expertise in restaurant service and management. The Café, which began in 1997 as a modest candy shop in a renovated corner of a derelict building, has been recognized as one of the city's Top Ten soul food restaurants, with no meal priced greater than $8.
Mr. Cuccia, a New Orleans native, brought his diverse and extensive experience as a general contractor and as a worker in hotels, restaurants and oil fields to his post at Café Reconcile. "Since I've been here, I've used everything I've learned in all of my other experiences," he explains. "I went to Nichols State University for awhile and then to a community college, but sitting in a classroom wasn't my forte. I'm a learner-by-doer."
In the mid-1990's, Mr. Cuccia became involved in ministry through his spiritual director, the late Fr. Harry Tompson, SJ, and helped him open a center for homeless people. They bought the Central City building that is now home to Café Reconcile in 1997 and began to develop the Café as a cooperative project of the Learning for a Sustainable Future Foundation and the St. John Francis Regis Hospitality School. The present Café operation opened in 2000 and more than 250 young people have completed the training program. Many have moved on to careers in the city's top restaurants and there are now ten full-time neighborhood employees at the Café.
"There's been a real evolution on this corner," says Mr. Cuccia. "We have this idea that you can do something different and better here and not always be exposed to the illegal element of drugs and prostitution that was here when we started."
Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent flooding did not devastate the Central City neighborhood to the same extent as some other areas of New Orleans. Café Reconcile reopened less than two months after the hurricane. Nonetheless, the wind and water have provided both challenges and opportunities for Mr. Cuccia and the people of Café Reconcile. Central City has become a newly desirable location and Mr. Cuccia is working with a church group to develop affordable housing so that the low-income people who live in the neighborhood will be able to stay as the area gentrifies. He has also expanded the focus of his program to train young adults for the construction jobs that are now abundant throughout the city.
Mr. Cuccia is also increasing Café Reconcile's catering operation, developing a family learning center and working on the model for a "business incubator" to bring new jobs to the area. He downplays his role in the revival of the neighborhood saying, "I'm like the guy who gets to carry the torch over the finish line after everyone else has done the hard running."
Mr. Cuccia was nominated for the Development of People Award by Tom Costanza, CCHD Director for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Mr. Costanza says, "Craig is a visionary who has been able to bring people together to develop themselves and the community in an area that was historically self-interested. He is able to get people moving in a collaborative way." He adds, "One of Craig's great strengths is his ability to reach out to all strata of society and convince those with more to not only donate money, but come to the area and meet the residents, get involved and be in solidarity. Café Reconcile has become a power lunch place."
The Sister Margaret Cafferty Development of People Award, named in memory of the late Presentation Sister who served as executive director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and a member of the Catholic Bishops' Committee for CCHD, honors an individual whose life exemplifies a commitment to the development of people and the elimination of poverty. Recipients of this award have made significant contributions to human development and have offered heroic responses to the needs of the economically disadvantaged. The award was established in 1987 and was called the Development of People Award until 1997, when it was renamed in Sister Margaret Cafferty's honor after her death.
Mr. Tim Collins, CCHD Executive Director, said, "Craig Cuccia has used his considerable talents as a contractor and a man of faith to bring hope and optimism to a disenfranchised neighborhood. It is likely that Café Reconcile and the Central City area will be a linchpin of the redevelopment of New Orleans – and that is due, in no small part, to Craig's passionate involvement. I am inspired by the way Craig attracts people of complementary talents to bring dignity and justice to a neighborhood that has been effectively forgotten since the 1950s. Craig and Café Reconcile embody the spirit and mission of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development."
CCHD is the largest private funder of anti-poverty programs controlled by the poor in the United States. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) established the Campaign in 1970 to support self-help efforts of low-income people, to address the root causes of poverty and bring to life both Scripture and the Church's social teaching. Since then, CCHD has distributed more than $280 million in grants to thousands of local projects dedicated to helping people overcome their own poverty.
Mr. Collins will present the award to Mr. Cuccia on Sunday, February 12, at the Annual Combined Social Ministry Meeting at the Capitol Hilton in Washington, DC. Mr. Cuccia will be accompanied by his wife, children and extended family. While in Washington, he and Mr. Costanza will also visit members of Congress to ask them to consider additional aid to New Orleans.
More information about the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and poverty in America can be found at the CCHD websites www.usccb.org/cchd and www.povertyusa.org
Editors: A color photo of Craig Cuccia is available. To request the photo, or for additional information, contact Barbara Stephenson, CCHD, email@example.com, or 202-541-3364.