Spirit of Giving: Former inmates get a 'Second Chance' at coffee company

August 8, 2013 (CHICAGO)

The product is high end coffee. The producers are former prisoners. The business plan is the brainchild of a former software developer who believes it's his calling to help those in need by giving them a second chance. It's how Pete Leonard shows his "Spirit of Giving."

Over the past two years, Rob Larson has become a master coffee roaster. This wasn't his dream job, as kid he wanted to work with computers. However, a drug habit paired with bad choices derailed him.

"My actual offense is lascivious behavior with a minor, so, I'm actually a sex offender," said Larson.

Larson said that his life has changed, but for years, he had trouble finding a job.

Larson now works for the Second Chance Coffee Company in Wheaton and says he's back on track.

"This is the only source of income that my family has right now and without it, I don't even know where we'd be," said Larson.

Pete Leonard, CEO and founder of the coffee company, started the business after watching his own relative struggle to find work after serving time behind bars.

Leonard said the coffee's brand name, "I Have a Bean" is meant to conjure thoughts of Dr. King's call for equality.

"Our dream is that men and women will no longer be judged by the errors of their past but will be known instead, by the present evidence of the content of their character," he said.

Although not every employee at Second Chance Coffee Company has a criminal record, the company has hired 18 post-prison workers since 2009.

Another former inmate, Amy, who found employment said that the opportunity at Second Chance Coffee Company gave her the fresh start she needed after spending 19 months behind bars.

"It's not the X on my back. It's the X on your application…That's exactly what it is," said Amy. "That's always the common factor unfortunately, and this company is all about second chances," she said.

While the Second Chance Coffee Company stresses its social mission, the main message is clear: It's about the people who get second chances, not the coffee. The coffee beans used in the products, score in the top 1 percent for quality.

"I Have a Bean" Coffee is sold at all Chicago-area Whole Foods Stores.

Visit "I Have a Bean"
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