H.A.V.E Cafe Caters to Have-Nots

February 26, 2009

H.A.V.E. Café Caters to the Have-Nots

It’s Friday afternoon, and staff and students at the H.A.V.E Café are gathered around a back table enjoying a quiet late lunch of stuffed peppers and sandwiches.  It’s two o’clock pm, the day is now over, and everyone is enjoying some well-deserved relaxation.

“I’m graduating today,” Dave says while sitting down to his meal.  He appears slightly exhausted after today’s busy service, but speaks with a renewed sense of worth and accomplishment.  Originally from Newfoundland, Dave fell on hard times recently, and needed a fresh start.  He has just completed the 8 week culinary training program offered from this small café on Powell Street in the Downtown Eastside.  He has on-the-job training under his belt and, best of all, interviews with restaurants who want to hire him.

Dave is one of the dozens of students H.A.V.E. Café has trained since opening nearly 18 months ago.  The program is a multi-tiered team effort involving corporate sponsors, private donors, and dedicated volunteers who donate time and resources to provide hope to those who feel they have none at all.

“H.A.V.E. Café is about serving people who have various employment barriers,” says executive director Amber Anderson, whose roots can be traced back to the former Cook Studio, a similar program at the same location of which H.A.V.E. Café is a successful offshoot.  Anderson and one other trainer lead a team of anywhere from five to thirteen students who have battled addictions, struggle with English, or have other special needs which prevent them from acquiring a job and getting on their feet.

The program has the support of such big name establishments as White Spot, who actively recruits graduates from the program and hire them into jobs where they make $15 an hour or more, with medical benefits.  These businesses may pay training costs back to H.A.V.E. Café, and provide new graduates with an environment where they can continue to learn, grow, and possibly receive additional certification such as Red Seal training.

“It’s great,” says Dave, the student.  “There’s a system in place where they help find you a job and send you somewhere where you know you’re wanted.  I’ve learned more here from Amber in eight weeks than I learned in 20 years of cooking.  She’s a very gifted instructor.”

Anderson realizes each person has a different background and needs, and thus a lot of the training she provides is intuitive and specific to the individual.  The café’s unprecedented success is reflected through Anderson’s philosophy of emphasizing life skills and personal development just as much as the culinary training.

“We practice compassion with our students, “she says.  “There isn’t a three strikes and you’re out rule.  If we need to go the extra mile everyday to persuade people to keep coming back, we do.  We want them to stay in the program no matter what.”
“It’s important to develop the whole individual,” she says.  “You can’t lump everyone into one category; it really is on a person to person basis.”

She also lets the graduates know that her door is always open, and she tries to stay connected with everyone who goes through the program.

“I never let go of them completely,” Anderson says.  They’re always in and out, even after they move on.”

Thanks to this committed network of donors and citizens, the program is looking to apply this model in other similar locations.  Lookout operates a transition house just a few blocks away, which could provide an ideal spot for expansion.  She says H.A.V.E. Café’s attempts to garner financial support from the government has been slow and inefficient, so she’s focusing on her students and letting the other chips fall as they may.

“We try to work with the government, but there’s a lot of bureaucracy and red tape,” she explains.  “We’d love more of their support, but here we’re focused on the students.  It’s really because of them that I love what I do.”

H.A.V.E Logo

H.A.V.E Logo


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