Maud’s Café gives homeless youth a foothold in the workforce
At first glance, Maud’s Café looks like any other sleek and stylish new coffee shop. But as you speak with the staff and perhaps read the menu, you realize there’s much more going on inside these walls.
Lives are changing, for one thing. The friendly young crew preparing snacks and beverages at this modern café in Salt Lake’s Central Ninth neighborhood are part of an 8- to 12-week employment-training program offered by the Volunteers of America Utah’s Homeless Youth Resource Center and Young Men’s and Women’s Transition Homes.
“It has been an amazing learning experience,” says Hope, a formerly homeless 19-year-old trainee from the Salt Lake Valley. “I have never been a barista before, so this has been a major learning experience for me.”
Now, as she is learning about coffee and tea service, restaurant operations, working as an employee (and with co-workers) and even gardening, Hope’s world is expanding. She’s currently enrolled in a trade school and getting to know more people in the workforce. She feels more a part of things and says that service events held at the café give her a sense of community.
Maud’s Café sources its coffee and food offerings locally as much as possible. Caffe Ibis Coffee and Tea Grotto tea is served in house with food items such as Creminelli snack packs and fresh-baked goods from Stoneground Bakery. Snacks rotate occasionally to ensure a variety and offer seasonal items.
“The training with the youth has been going really well,” says Kiara Polee, café manager and social worker for VOA. “In the very beginning stages of their training they stick to the technical side of things, and then slowly work towards the customer service side once they get confident that they are serving a good product.”
Polee expressed her appreciation for the tremendous amount of support the community has given them. Having people drive by, see the café sign and stop in has given everyone working there a sense of accomplishment, she says.
The café is part of the The Greenery, a retail, office and residential property developed by Artspace a little over a year ago. Artspace approached Volunteers of America (VOA) to see if they would open a coffee shop to serve not only Greenery tenants but the surrounding neighborhood. Artspace has worked side by side with VOA, including making a significant donation to get Maud’s Café (named after Maud Ballington Booth, a co-founder of VOA in 1896) up and running.
The training is expressly designed for homeless youth who ask to join the program. Then, the Utah Department of Workforce Services, which collaborates on this program, helps them with preparation skills, testing and gets them ready to work—as some might need help with basics such as having identification, a home address, etc.
From there, a training manager from VOA assists them in developing an appropriate training schedule. The youth then begin learning all the facets of having a job, including getting to work on time.
“Customer service is a big part of the training,” says Cathleen Sparrow, VOA’s chief development officer. “Homeless youth do not trust adults, generally speaking. So, part of the training is learning how to interact with adults.”
Being comfortable serving the public is vital, she continues. It allows the trainees to become comfortable in that role, which in turn builds confidence and allows them to move on to other jobs without that fear.
Trainees are regular employees who collect a pay check and pay taxes. After their training is complete, others help find them a job in the private sector. All profits earned at Maud’s Café go back into the training program.
The benefits of the program go beyond the café. Not only are homeless youth better able to stabilize their lives, the neighborhood now enjoys a popular coffee shop and adjacent businesses have more foot traffic.
“Artspace agrees with our fundamental mission of providing training opportunities for homeless youth,” Greg Lambert, VOA chief financial officer, says. “Everything is driven by that concept, and our goal is to train between 20 to 30 youth every year and give them the opportunity to have a real-life training experience.”
422 W. 900 South, SLC