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Allison Lensing puts whipped cream in a drink at the Cat Cafe inside Humboldt High School.

Editor’s Note: This is the final part of a two-part series.

HUMBOLDT — DeDe Merris found a way for her students to connect with other students.

Her next goal was to find a way that students could learn skills that would benefit them once they were ready for life after high school.

Merris, a special education teacher at Humboldt High School, along with Katie Walrod, a food consumer science teacher and Patty Hayes, a business instructor, have intertwined friendship, math and business to create the Cat Cafe.

“The Cat Cafe has been wildly successful on so many levels,” Merris said. “More so than ever imagined. We have the support from the Friends Club members, our student body, the staff and our administration.”

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Students line up outside of the Cat Cafe at Humboldt High School.

Senior Nora Carlson enjoys being part of the Friends Club and the venture of the Cat Cafe.

“Friends Club is truly what its name implies, a friendship between numerous peers,” Carlson said. “I have, not only, learned about marketing and running a cafe but, in doing so, grown to appreciate the joys of working with all members of Friends Club.”

Humboldt student Sarah Numedahl joined Friends Club for another activity, but found much more with the group and the cafe.

“In the beginning, I joined to add another extracurricular to my transcript, but after the first meeting, I realized how much I enjoyed the company of peers that participated,” Numedahl said. “I began to become more involved.

“The Cat Cafe is a great opportunity for all students to gain important life skills and engage in the school and collaborate with others.”

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Paige Allard prepares a drink at the Cat Cafe with all of the toppings.

The Cat Cafe, which branched out from the Friends Club, served its first customer in October 2021.

“The Cat Cafe is a coffee shop on our school campus that provides a safe space for all students to collaborate, communicate and connect with one another,” Walrod said. “Our goal is to equip students with real-life functional, transitional, and vocational skills by working in the cafe. This is done through the use of a school-based cooperative educational program.

“The Cat Cafe is a project of the special education department, but also collaborates with both the foods and marketing classes as well.”

The cafe is a student-run business inside Humboldt High School, where students can learn a variety of skills.

“My marketing class helps out. We help with pricing the products by researching all the components and then setting prices that are competitive and profitable,” Hayes said. “The marketing class was also responsible for the initial promotion of the Cat Cafe.

“The class created posters to promote the Cat Cafe’s opening, the sale of Cat Cafe mugs and tumblers, and the sale of Cat Cafe punch cards. Our class also created and runs an Instagram page for the Cat Cafe.”

The cafe allows the students to interact with each other and build relationships, while learning new life skills.

“The Cat Cafe provides an opportunity for our students to learn life skills, such as money management, customer service, and food industry skills.

“The students volunteer their time to help run the cafe.”

The Cat Cafe provides a variety of options for patrons to choose from.

“We sell regular coffee, hot and cold lattes, hot chocolate, smoothies, frappes and monthly special drinks,” Merris said. “Our specialty drinks have been created by staff in our building. It’s been a fun way to get staff involved.

“Each month we feature four new drinks by the staff as part of a contest. Staff members encourage students to purchase their monthly specialty beverage to help their drink win.”

The cafe is open three days a week on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. On Fridays it is open from 7:30 am to 8:45 am

“On Mondays, the students prepare and deliver drinks directly to teachers’ classrooms at the high school and middle school during their first period classes,” Merris said. “On Tuesdays, the students serve first hour study hall students, as well as, practice making new drinks for the menu, perform duties such as restocking consumable items, bagging ice and cleaning.

“Fridays are our busiest days and we normally have a team of eight to 10 students working like clockwork together to make drinks and provide customer service.”

Fridays are also special days, where a speaker will talk to the students and music is played.

“Our principal, Dr. Paul Numedahl provides a speaker every Friday morning,” Merris said. “Soft jazz music sets the tone in the background. Our superintendent, Jim Murray, is our volunteer delivery driver making it possible to deliver drinks to both our elementary schools.”

The profits of the Cat Cafe help sustain the day-to-day operations of the business as well as provide funding for Friends Club activities.

“It’s always a learning experience getting started and we continue to add new ideas as we go,” Merris said. “One example we have implemented is working with teachers to develop an incentive program for students who show improvement in multiple areas such as attendance, work completion and grades.

“We also reward students we catch showing random acts of kindness. We will definitely continue to add ideas and improve over time.”

Landon Vik, who is a member of the Friends Club and loves working at the cafe, enjoys spending time with his classmates.

“I love coming to Friends Club so I can see all of my friends and eat snacks,” Vik said. “At the cafe I usually run the cash register and greet all of the teachers and students.

“I am really good at my job.”

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