Tucked in the corner of the West Shore Child, Youth and Family Centre on Wale Road is a cozy little cafe.
Not only is Skookum Food and Coffee a good place of respite for workers and clients visiting the building, it’s providing a place for area teens to gain their first taste, in many cases, of the working world.
The cafe is the business end of the free 12-week Skookum Skills program run by Pacific Centre Family Services Association.
“It’s fun and well-organized. It’s a good experience,” said Dakota Webb, 19 and a graduate of Belmont secondary who was on his last shift at the cafe.
He’s learned barista skills, how to use a knife properly and knows what giving good customer service looks like. Along with his FoodSafe and first aid cards, he’s got some marketable skills, but isn’t quite sure what direction his training will take him next.
Not so for Becky Lee, an 18-year-old Gordon Head resident who was recently hired on to be a barista at the Uptown Starbucks.
Brittany Arnold, a soft-spoken 17 year old entering Grade 12 this fall at Belmont, enjoyed the program and all it taught her. “I really like working up front as a barista. I learned a lot about customer service,” she said.
Arnold recommends the skills program to any teens looking to expand their skills and get out into the world. “They should definitely try it. Lots of people are shy when they come in, but you get a confidence boost from learning to do all the jobs.”
Mitzi Dean, the association’s executive director, is excited about seeing the cafe and the young people involved in its training program program take the operation to the next level.
A visit to other food-based social enterprises in Vancouver earlier this year allowed some ideas to start to percolate for the cafe in Colwood.
“We really want to promote our signature quality and the fact we use local produce,” she said.
As part of a broader-based thinking for the program, cafe co-ordinator Liz Overton oversaw staff in catering the association’s annual general meeting this year. As well, the group has been setting up shop at the Goldstream Station market on recent Saturdays in Veteran’s Memorial Park.
Dean said the association is working to build partnerships in the community for the program. So far that effort is going well.
As part of the program, staff from 2% Jazz Coffee provided barista training for the youth, while Vancity staffers presented a full day of general business training. Other partners offered up literacy training to help youth with learning challenges get up to speed.
On the funding side, the association received a grant from the Victoria Foundation worth between $15,000 and $20,000 on top of the more than $40,000 that Dean said it has invested in the program itself.
Overton, overseeing the second group of youth since the program began last fall, works closely with them in the kitchen and out front. She’s proud of her charges for the changes and growth she’s seen in them over the course of their work term.
“I’ve seen a lot of them blossom and gain confidence,” she said. “They all are quite outgoing now and this building contributes that. They’ve created a real team attitude and they get so much reinforcement that something is working.”
While Skookum is not necessarily an employment-finding program, it providing youth – some of whom come in with barriers to moving forward in the working world or education – with an opportunity to build their repertoire and move forward with more confidence.
Dean hears from parents of youth who have completed the program that they see more self-confidence and self-esteem in their children. That is one of its primary goals, she said. “We give them new opportunities and new experiences to build on.”
How to apply for Skookum Skills
If you’re a youth or know someone who is looking to gain some pre-employment skills or boost your self-confidence in a supportive environment, the Skookum Skills program is accepting applications for upcoming 12-week terms. Between six and eight people are accepted at a time. To apply, send your name and contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org, call 250-478-8357 or stop by the association office at 345 Wale Rd.