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Lifelong learning for
a fairer Australia

Lifelong learning for
a fairer Australia

Coffee changes lives

There’s a coffee buzz at Hackham West Community Centre in Adelaide’s south and it’s adding energy, opening up opportunities and bringing new people in the door.

The Perks Coffee program offers training to locals looking for entry-level work in hospitality and social opportunities to members of the local community.

Colly Lesker ACE co-ordinator at Hackham West says a grant advertisement from the Learning Changes Lives Foundation was the catalyst that got the project up and running.

‘A coffee cart is a great way to train people. We have mums with kids, parents who are carers, people who’ve been out of the workforce and it’s a great way to help them build confidence and the skills they need for hospitality roles.’

Working on the coffee cart develops participants’ literacy and numeracy too.

‘Quite apart from learning to make good coffee, participants learn to write orders, understand the ins and outs of food hygiene and safe food handling, and the customer service and communications skills that are such an important part of the job.’

Eighteen people have been through the ten-week program since it began in 2021, ranging in age from 19 to 50. The centre is located in Onkaparinga, one of the most socioeconomically disadvantaged areas in the state. Unemployment is high, school completion rates are low and social isolation is endemic.

For those who’ve been out of work and isolated for long periods of time, interacting confidently with strangers is a new experience.

‘It’s a real skill that most of us take for granted.

‘For some of our participants, learning how to talk to customers is a huge challenge. It takes a lot of polishing and practice.

‘Connecting with customers, saying hello, looking people in the face and feeling confident comes from the inside. People need to feel worthy. And the way they feel about themselves shows in how they stand, how they look, the language they use. Developing confidence in speaking to strangers, taking orders and building those skills makes a huge difference.

‘Something that works is encouraging people to think of themselves as playing a role and putting on a work hat. Separating out who they are from the kind of work they are doing allows them to protect themselves and eliminates a lot of anxiety people feel about being judged.’

The Perks Coffee program combines practical coffee making with literacy and numeracy skills.

The coffee cart provides much needed social opportunities for staff and customers alike.

‘The sort of connection with other people they get from being part of Perks makes such a difference to their lives. They have gotten used to making themselves invisible and are often highly anxious about attending. But taking that first step is the hardest. One young woman who came to be trained hadn’t left home in two years. It took a lot of courage for her to get here. But now she feels safe and supported. She has goals and wants to work as a volunteer in the hospital coffee shop. She is just amazing.’

Industry experts who volunteer their time make a huge contribution to the program Colly says. ‘They do an amazing job. I don’t have the technical skill or know
in gold.’

‘Feeling a part of the group is so important to feeling part of the community.’ Colly Lesker, ACE co-ordinator

Award winning volunteer Alyssa Hand helped to cement the program and establish the social enterprise by taking the cart out and doing deliveries alongside the students.

‘Alyssa just loves it. She is a great mentor and the students learn a lot from her. She shows them that if you remember a customer’s name, welcome them, ask if they want their usual and have a joke with them then you are creating a real connection and people will come back. She’s a dynamo and she’s been fantastic for the program.’

Having one another’s backs makes all the difference, Colly says. ‘We really focus on the importance of teamwork. They are there to help and support each other. And we’re happy for people to make mistakes because that’s good learning for all of us.’

And they get lots of practice. Hackham West is a busy centre with over 70 volunteers, a creche, an out of school hours care program, and adult education classes so there’s a constant flow of customers.

Colly says it’s a great way to attract people through the door and bolster a sense of community.

‘We don’t have a coffee shop close by. So people who normally wouldn’t be able to afford to go out for coffee can pop in and have a one and enjoy the experience. It might be the only time that day that they get out see other people.

‘We couldn’t believe it when we heard that we’d been successful in getting a Learning Changes Lives Foundation grant. It was really exciting to see that dream come true. I had a plan and a vision and suddenly I could see it happening before my eyes. Now we are training people up and giving them different opportunities and experiences and creating a social enterprise for the centre as well.’

‘Hackham West is an amazingly vibrant centre with lots of different community programs to engage and bring people together and provide support and we’re very proud of that.’ Colly Lesker, ACE co-ordinator

The next round of Learning Changes Lives Foundation grants closes in March 2022.

See the full issue of Quest 4, 2021

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