ALTON — Tucked inside the Riverbender.com Community Center sits a new family-friendly café that brings to Alton a new level of community involvement.
The Dragonfly Family Café offers a healthy, affordable menu and play space for the kids, while adults enjoy time together and reconnect as a family. The nonprofit student-operated café, previously the Internet Café, is under the mentorship and supervision of chef Jason Harrison. His passion, along with the vision of fellow idealists Developmental Director Dee Dee Altenbernd and Creative Director Lara Talsky, made the project a reality.
Altenbernd says the mission is to allow families a place to enjoy time together without breaking the bank or feeling as if the kids have to sit still and stay quiet.
“This is a place where children are not just tolerated, they are celebrated,” Talsky said.
Harrison has been cooking since he was 13.
“It’s that point of connect that everyone has,” he said. “Everyone has to eat. I have always liked to help people … and one way you can always do that is through food.”
Harrison says his goal is to teach teens how to be entrepreneurs and become acclimated to the job market by experiencing the restaurant business’ inner workings. This includes ordering, accounting, inventory, cooking, menu choices and customer service, all while granting them the creative freedom to mold the menu and other aspects of the café.
“Being successful goes further than the four walls of the (Riverbender Community) Center,” Harrison said.
Offering these types of volunteer opportunities to teens not only boosts self-esteem and compassion, it helps them get into college and encourages volunteerism, café organizers say.
“A lot of these Honor Society and Student Council students need 120 to 180 hours of volunteer (work), and they are loving it,” Altenbernd said.
The café offers booth and table seating with a nearby children’s playroom equipped with a craft center, doll house, dress-up center and more. There is a two-story indoor playhouse and climbing tree designed by Pat Goetten’s Alton High School students, with the playhouse built free of charge by Morrissey Construction and the tree by John Duggan’s first- and second-hour construction classes (all materials were donated by Home Depot). The Community Center also provides video games, billiards, air hockey, a climbing wall, a movie theater, free wireless Internet and more. It is available for group functions.
With a $30 one-year center membership per family, Friday nights are free to get in and allow access to the entire center.
Menu items include grilled fish, baked chicken, hamburgers, turkey ribs, hot dogs and chicken kabobs. Full meals are $7 for adults and $4 for kids.
“If you’re a member … for $26, (a) family of five can come on a Friday night, eat dinner and play,” Talsky said.
“You can’t do that anywhere else,” Altenbernd said.
The café is open from 5 until 10 p.m. Fridays, with future plans to be open seven days a week. It is seeking adult/parental mentors and volunteers as well as donations of food and paper products.