by Gloria Welton
The vision to have a social enterprise that could serve area youth and create a revenue source has come to reality for a non-profit organization.
Barb Broome is the Executive Director for Connection 2 Employment PEI (C2E PEI), a division of East Prince Youth Development Centre. A few years ago, she attended a social enterprise conference in Scotland, where she was inspired to pursue her vision for a café and training centre.
Barb says the organization had been putting funds aside with their vision in mind. “But we were far from being ready financially and it was a challenge to find a location, as we wanted it to be close to our main office in Summerside.”
When a perfect restaurant location came available at the Holland College Summerside Waterfront Campus, they needed to come up with funding to buy it. “We received incredible help from the provincial and federal governments. Also, the past owner of the restaurant helped by selling it to us with an agreement for regular payments. He has been very supportive of our youth programs and services over the years.
“A number of our employment-based programs have run in the community for many years. Many community employers have offered on-the-job training for our clients and we still need to pursue those opportunities. But we were missing the necessary hands-on employment training component.”
That is where the new café and training centre is making a difference. It provides a work setting where clients can get the support they need to build skills without the pressure of needing to perform independently.
“Here they can work on customer service skills and restaurant training, which are skills that prepare a person to work in many settings. Youth learn about making cash transactions, working at a fast pace, communication, time management, interpersonal relationships, adapting to situations, being flexible, and much more.”
During the summer, C2E PEI had as many as 27 staff members, and is one of the biggest employers serving youth on PEI. The staff hired to run the restaurant and training centre have experience working with people who may be dealing with issues such as anxiety and depression.
“We also provide staff training such as Mental Health First Aid and other training will take place on an on-going basis.
“Over the years, I have never had a problem finding staff. Here at the café the hours are great, and we are getting lots of resumés from people wanting to work here. We pay a good wage, and after a period of time, benefits are offered to our core staff.”
The new café and training centre already have youth in training and they are seeing great results. “Some youth have already spent time with us and have moved to other career goals. They can always come back to access our services and get support on their journey.
“This is a safe place for youth. If they are having a troubling day they can still come to work, and we can help them get through it. And if they can’t face the public during a bad day there are lots of other jobs here behind the scenes that can be done.”
The café opened on June 21,2022 and operates seven days a week. The location attracts Holland College students and staff throughout the workday, along with the general public.
“Our Sunday morning breakfast is a big hit in Summerside, and Saturday is increasing as well. We have a full downhome menu but no deep fryer. We want to provide meals that are more nutritious and affordable.
“To date, the café’s clients are coming from our existing youth programs, and we suspect that there will be support and funding from other employment programs in the area to train more clients at our café.” Barb is working on a training model that will allow other community employment program clients to train at the café as well.
“Some people are very quiet and withdrawn when they start our programs. But when they get the right encouragement and positive feedback, we see a more confident person who will start to open up.
“This café is for people who need a safe place to go to work and may not at this point in their lives be able to find other employment. We give people a chance and encourage them along the way. We want people to be responsible and accountable, but if they fall back, we are here to help them get back on track and work towards their goals.
“When they are hired here in this safe training space, we see them blossom and recognize their own potential and interests. They start to believe in themselves. We expect clients to put in the effort and to treat this setting as a work environment, and we are always trying to strike a balance between running the business and offering support.
“We work with a lot of area employers who understand our goal to have the youth go from the training centre to other work settings. We are here to follow up and support both the employer and the youth. Even when the youth are employed or entering training or post-secondary, we are always here for them.”
Karly Phillips talks about her experience as a youth in training at the café
“I was in a Connection 2 Employment program and I started volunteering in the café before they opened. I was scared to leave the program and was excited when Barb offered me further training at the café.
“I am learning so much. Being in the program and working at the café has been life changing. Even a bad day is a good day because I know I am wanted here, and people are here to help me succeed. That support is a big help.
“I work here five days a week and I am very lucky to be here. Even when I am ready to work at another job, I know that the staff will still be here to talk with and to continue to guide, direct, and support me. I am changing my life around one step at a time.”
“Karly makes the best biscuits,” says Barb. “We just gave her the recipe and she did so well.” Her eggs benedict is a hit as well.
“I never thought I would be in a job like this,” says Karly. “Turns out I am not too bad at this type of work, and I am surprising myself. I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t think I would love it as much as I do. It is great to know I can stay here as long as I want and need to.”
Barb says Connection 2 Employment PEI plans to eventually serve clients across the Island
“We are exploring the possibilities of opening additional C2E PEI offices throughout PEI. Because of some training we have done across the Island, we already have clients from Tignish to Montague, and our staff continues to follow up with these clients.
“We need to make it easier for youth to connect with supports, so we need more centres that specialize in what we do. Youth are falling through the cracks, and they need support. There is a great need for consistent youth services and support across the province where youth can get the help they need to navigate through this challenging world.”
For more information about the Waterfront Café and Training Centre, contact Barb Broome at 902-436-2815.Visit www.epydc.org
The Waterfront Café and Training Centre is funded by ACOA and PEI government departments including Workforce, Advance Learning and Population and Housing, Land and Communities.