Bob Van Oosterhout

Hard Times Cafe Model of Empowerment

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The Hard Times Cafe (HTC) believes that disadvantaged people are a resource to be tapped rather than a problem to be solved.  HTC is  based on four basic values and beliefs that form a screen for every decision and activity of the program.  These include: the dignity of each person; a focus on potential for improvement rather than on deficits or disabilities; building a supportive community; and insuring the responsibility of each participant.


HTC participants (called patrons) include current and former welfare recipients, families living in poverty, people with physical and/or mental disabilities and others who are experiencing hard times.  The goals of the Hard Times Cafe, approved by patrons in January, 1992 include: (1) To work together to meet our needs and improve our lives; (2) To develop skills and attitudes that will help us to prosper; (3) To create a positive impression in the community that will bring us respect and opportunity; (4) To improve our community; and (5) To serve as a positive role model for children.


The Hard Times Cafe has demonstrated that empowerment works.  Empowerment simply means to give authority.  At the Hard Times Cafe, patrons have full authority for all structures and activities of the program.  All decisions are made by consensus of patrons.   Everyone has input.  HTC patrons have delegated authority to subgroups of patrons but final say over every decision and activity of the program rests with the group that meets every Thursday afternoon.  This helps to insure inclusion and makes every patron responsible for the success of the program.   Staff serve as advisors, trainers, facilitators and coaches but have no direct authority over program operations.  Bob was co-founder (with Gretchen Wilbur), facilitator, and program designer of the Hard Times Cafe  Bob facilitated the program for over eight years and trained hundreds of professionals in the model of empowerment upon which HTC was based.

Brief Description of the Hard Times Cafe (initial paragraphs have been copied above)

Graphic - HTC Model of Empowerment (lower steps must be in place before higher)

Video of Conference describing the Hard Times Cafe Model of empowerment with input by HTC patrons - part 1 of 4

Video of Conference describing the Hard Times Cafe Model of empowerment with input by HTC patrons - part 2 of 4

Video of Conference describing the Hard Times Cafe Model of empowerment with input by HTC patrons - part 3 of 4

Video of Conference describing the Hard Times Cafe Model of empowerment with input by HTC patrons - part 4 of 4

Hard Times Cafe Training Manual