Café 361 is a church-sponsored organization in Cedar Rapids that teaches life and leadership skills, and teamwork to young women in a safe and structured environment. Middle and high school girls gather once a month to prepare, cook and serve varied community meals. 

Each season, the girls and the leadership team brainstorm ideas for themed dinners. This year, the girls have chosen to pair the dinner with a movie theme. November’s theme is Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  On the day of the dinner, the girls are paired with adult volunteers and work together to prepare a recipe. They sit with guests at dinner to practice communication skills and make presentations or participate in a short program after dinner.

In addition to the dinners, Café 361 partners with community businesses and agencies to participate in local events, host private dinners, prepare and serve meals for the homeless and for the church’s meal ministry. They volunteer to pack meals for the Feed My Starving Children program and have also toured several college campuses including Kirkwood’s culinary program.

The girls completed the leadership program, Girls With Ideas, which teaches them that their ideas matter, how to make their ideas happen, and how to lead with confidence. The program culminated with the girls planning and independently preparing meals at the St. Luke’s Hospital Ronald McDonald Family Center.

While First Congregational sponsors the program, Café 361 is financially independent. Café 361 was so grateful to have received the generous grant from the Iowa Women’s Foundation. These funds are vital to extend the program and cover the costs of the service projects, college visits, and scholarships awarded to the girls after three and five years of participation. Through this support from IWF, the girls have experienced growth in many areas. The leadership team, as well as regular dinner guests, have found it inspiring to watch the girls gain skills and friendships that will help them become more confident and well-rounded.

Learn more about Café 361 and/or make dinner reservations at www.cafe361.org.