Hospitality training reaches youth

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Australia’s Olive Branch Cafe provides 15-week course for those in crisis.

By Kate Gilmour – 

 Students (from left) Austin, Kyle and Jack.
Students (from left) Austin, Kyle and Jack.

Trista Latham struggled with anxiety and depression. And with no real schooling or training under her belt, her options were limited. Then, she received a referral to The Salvation Army Oasis’s Olive Branch Café hospitality program in Hamilton, Australia.

The program provides training and hands on experience from skilled chefs and offers its students a Certificate II in Hospitality. Those who are dealing with anger, depression and homelessness—between 15 and 25 years old—are referred to the program through school and support agencies.

The Olive Branch Café can take up to 16 students at a time and currently has 30 students on the waiting list. Statistics on the program show that seven in 10 complete a Certificate II in Hospitality and half get a job after completing the 15-week course.

Through the experience Latham gained in the program, she became the head maître d’ at Olive Branch Café. She will soon finish her Training and Education (TAE), and The Salvation Army helped her attain housing.

“All I needed was a chance, and that’s what they gave me,” Latham said.

Olive Branch Café Head Chefs Shannon Geelan and Jacob Sutcliffe work to help students complete the program and improve their confidence.

“It’s more than cooking food,” Sutcliffe said. “It’s food with a purpose.”

Recently, when a student went missing for a few days, Sutcliffe called to make sure she was okay. The student later confided that the phone call saved her life. She just needed to know someone cared.

“Sometimes you forget the influence you have to change a person’s life,” Suttcliffe said.

The Salvation Army’s Oasis program also offers anger management classes, drug and alcohol groups and a full running studio. Several schools in the area now hold food and Christmas fundraising drives for Olive Branch Café, which has a $3,000 price tag per student for the costs of the kitchen, training, a uniform and shoes.

Susan, another Olive Branch beneficiary, has attended for more than six months. She was bullied and didn’t want to attend school anymore. Staff members said she barely spoke when she arrived. After being in the program, they said she is now vivacious, making friends with all of the students.

“It gives me hope after leaving school,” Susan said. “All the staff have been really supportive. I really enjoy coming here; it is so nice to have a safe place to be.”

Staff leader James Cameron would like to see the program in every city in Australia.

“Of all the programs we run here at Oasis, the café offers a real opportunity for young people to experience transformation,” Cameron said. “The café not only provides training, skills and knowledge, it helps them see their worth in the community. I am privileged to be a part of something so life changing.”

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