Interview with Cindy Nicholson, Director

Meet our fearless leader Cindy and learn more about what makes Café 361 so special.


Since becoming an active member of Café 361, Cindy has learned a lot about making a difference in the community. She’s also become a pro at multiplying her favorite recipes to feed a crowd.

“My skills at supersizing have increased significantly,” laughs Cindy.

Cindy first learned about Café 361 at church. An active member of the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Cedar Rapids, and the church’s Chair of Christian Education, Cindy volunteered alongside Café 361’s founder, Heather Woodin.

“At first, I volunteered just because I wanted to help our Church’s youth director, Heather,” recalls Cindy. “Then I got hooked. I became the Director in 2015. Having the opportunity to see many of the girls continue in the program over the years and to watch them develop their skills not just in cooking, but also in leadership and communication, has been a true blessing.”

As the Director, Cindy translates the girls’ ideas for themes and menus into reality. She helps cook, but that’s not her favorite part.

“I was raised in the restaurant business,” says Cindy. “We used to laugh; our parents didn’t have three daughters, they had three waitresses. I vowed I would never be in the cooking business, and here I am volunteering in it. It’s actually become a family affair, as my son Alex also helps.”

It’s fun for her to see some of her family’s recipes come to life – like Spanakopita – and she also enjoys working with the other volunteers and planning service projects, retreats, and mission trips.

“One year we went to Omaha for our mission trip and volunteered at a homeless shelter that serves over 2,000 meals a day,” says Cindy. “The girls got to help prepare lunch and serve it. I think it had a huge impact on the girls. Many of the girls are from disadvantaged homes, and they were able to not only feel good helping others but could better appreciate what they do have.”

But she doesn’t have to go all the way to Omaha to feel like Café 361 is making a difference.

“One of my favorite memories is so simple, just all of us all stuffed together in the kitchen,” says Cindy. “The girls were all doing their work, the radio was on, and all the girls were singing. You just know something special is happening here. You can feel it.”


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