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Coffee Creates Opportunities for Disadvantaged Youth

1 June 2016 at 9:26 am
Ellie Cooper
John Cafferatta went from working with disadvantaged youth to roasting coffee beans in his garage before combining the two and opening a cafe to provide training and work experience to help address unemployment, writes Ellie Cooper in this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise.

Ellie Cooper | 1 June 2016 at 9:26 am


Coffee Creates Opportunities for Disadvantaged Youth
1 June 2016 at 9:26 am

John Cafferatta went from working with disadvantaged youth to roasting coffee beans in his garage before combining the two and opening a cafe to provide training and work experience to help address unemployment, writes Ellie Cooper in this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise.

With a background in vocational education, John Cafferatta provided training for people in the jail system, disengaged students in high school and other at-risk communities.    

“I’ve been working in that space for several years and working contracts in the jail system as well as with youth at risk, disengaged students, with high schools, so working with a lot of community groups and at risk communities,” Cafferatta said.

“A lot of the training I was doing was coffee training and small business, everyone that undertook it wanted to pursue it. But there was that stigma where a lot of small businesses as well as larger businesses won’t necessarily give the same opportunity to students without work experience.

“A lot of them would say “how do I get work experience if no one wants to give me a chance”. I saw, potentially, we could fill that void in providing work experience as well as that training all under the same roof.”

Darcy Street ProjectHe quit his job with TAFE and began roasting coffee beans in his garage, learning the process from scratch to build up his knowledge to launch the Darcy Street Project, a social enterprise cafe in Parramatta, Sydney.

Cafferatta began the project in December 2014 after receiving an activation grant from Parramatta City Council.

During several months of negotiations he ran Darcy Street as a coffee cart in Centenary Square before officially opening the shopfront in November 2015.

He said one of the most important steps in setting up a social enterprise is networking and building partnerships.

“[There was] a lot of relationship building and looking at organisations with a shared purpose, shared value proposition – it was really important in the first 12 months. We had interest and a lot of people we were talking to, but I guess through experience you find out very quickly who’s in it for themselves or who’s in it for a community benefit, social impact,” he said.

“So now we network quite heavily with the refugee, migrant resource centre, we work with the Deaf Society, we work with job agencies, jobactive, PCYC [Police Citizens Youth Clubs], local schools and other training organisations.

“A lot of those groups refer students on… we take them on and give them free training.”

Cafferatta has also worked with corporates, including ING Direct, as well as local government.

Darcy Street provides training to early migrants, at-risk youth, disadvantaged students or those who have left school, Indigenous people and people with disability.

“We have a wide reach because it’s a transferrable skill across many different sectors. We’ve had a couple who were mature age as well who were looking to semi-retire or looking to change careers, but the majority has been youth-focused,” Cafferatta said.

“We also help people undertaking hospitality courses, so also private citizens who are wanting to be upskilled.”  

The first step in training is to get to know the people who are coming in for training and understand their individual situation.

“The groups we help the most are the ones who don’t have a job, have confidence issues because, for example, they’re early migrants and their language needs work,” Cafferatta said.

“We ask all those questions to see how we can best help and from there we start with the training.

“We start from the very beginning, we don’t assume any knowledge, and it’s very important we treat everyone with respect and dignity. They feel really vulnerable because they want to go and get a job, but they just don’t have that confidence.

“Once we instil them with some training, they do the work experience to apply that training, and from there it goes in leaps and bounds. They feel more confident, they can make coffee, they talk to customers who come in, that gives them the strength to apply for jobs.”  

Darcy Street ProjectTo date, Darcy Street has helped over 60 students.

“Our success rate has been over 90 per cent… they’ve either gotten a job as a result of the training or they’ve continued their study,” Cafferata said.

He also said that a focus of Darcy Street is to create a welcoming atmosphere and support other disadvantaged communities in Parramatta.

“We’ve also had thousands of pay it forwards. People who walk into the shop buy a coffee for a complete stranger and they use a post-it note and write a message of encouragement and they post it on the coffee machine or on the wall,” he said.

“They help service the local homeless communities or youth at risk. And it helps the students practice their coffee making skills and we use that pay it forward to give to a customer and it might have a small, positive impact on their day.”

He said the culture in the area has noticeably changed and there is “more of a positive community feel”.

“When I started in Parramatta I noticed that the culture here was very much dog eat dog. Now it’s actually quite friendly, you walk down the street and say hello to every single business owner or cafe worker and it’s really good.”  

And on a student level, he said his participants also absorb the positivity of the cafe.  

“In particular, the youth at risk come in here really disengaged, not wanting to participate as much, or they’re quite abrupt, so they might serve a customer saying, “What do you want”,” he said.

“Then after the training they realise through self-analysis that you can’t talk to people really roughly, because if you give out negativity you’ll get that back, so a lot of them have improved their manners, their etiquette, life skills.

“We do barista training, which is a very technical thing, but we also try to instil the life skills component as well that’s interacting with customers, being friendly, teaching them that coffee is something you would offer an old friend or family member when they come to your house.

“We’re trying to instil not just the coffee technical skills, but the culture behind it which is a very universal thing, I think that’s what helps us get somewhere with early migrants as well because a lot of those people have come from cultures that have coffee instilled in there.”  

Darcy Street Project

Cafferatta found one of the main challenges in starting a social enterprise was accessing information, support and resources.

He put this down to a lack of understanding about social enterprise.

“The definition was quite different for different people, so the level of support was very minimal,” he said.

“Now I think it’s actually improved quite a bit, the perfect example is with ING or with a lot of government organisations realising now you can be a for-profit, for-purpose business.

“The toughest thing is starting off with very little and making do with what you have. It’s quite hard to be sustainable if you’ve got a social purpose, because you are giving away a lot of your profits and you are reinvesting that back into the business.”

Along with selling coffee, to stay financially sustainable Darcy Street has a number of other projects to generate revenue.

“We also sell retail merchandise, so coffee equipment to the general public and other businesses, and we also charge for training for people who can afford it, we also do coffee pods, we’ve called them Community Pods, they’re Nespresso compatible, we also do some consultancy which is becoming more popular setting up other people’s coffee businesses and coffee carts,” Cafferatta said.

Going forward, he wants to implement several initiatives to grow the impact of the business. Over the next 12 months he wants to train 1,000 students, create online training resources and investigate environmentally friendly ways to make and sell coffee.

“The great thing with [online training] is we’d be able to train more people in more areas,” he said

“One main thing we want to do is implement green energy coffee carts, we’re trying to get into environmental as well as social business structures. We’re looking at getting a fleet of Wheely, which is a Sweden-based business that make solar powered coffee carts.

“We want to open one ourselves as a demonstration for other people to follow. We want to not just have a social impact, but have an environmental impact as well.”

Ellie Cooper  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Ellie Cooper is a journalist covering the social sector.

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