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A Heart for Getting Youth To Work

By Nicola Smith on July 10, 2021 in News

Some of Heart Cafe’s Awesome Staff. Photo: Brianna McNeillage

The Heart Café in Bondi creates employment pathways for young people through care, community, and delicious food.

The café, which opened in 2018, is a social enterprise linked with Wayside Chapel and sources its staff from the Wayside Chapel Wingspan Project.

Brianna McNeillage, the Wayside Social Enterprise Manager, told The Beast that the Wingspan project was born from wanting to fill a gap for youth at risk.

“Wingspan exists because of an understanding that it’s really easy to be excluded from work and the longer you spend out of work when you’re young, the harder it is to find work later in life. We recognise that that isn’t just bad for the individual but it’s bad for society too,” Ms McNeillage said.

Wingspan offers a 3-step program for youth at risk to be trained and gain employment. The first stage lasts for three months and consists of workshops and training three days a week designed to prepare young people for work, not only through qualifications such as RSA and First Aid training but also by teaching them to be reliable and accountable.

Participants then transition to working in the Wayside Chapel op-shop or Heart Café before transitioning to mainstream employment.

“When anyone starts work, they don’t know what to do. We support these young people to become good workers and act as a stage to lay the foundations for them to transition into mainstream work,” Ms McNeillage told The Beast.

Mo Rosa, the Café Manager at Heart Café, believes the social enterprise is thriving on the love of the Bondi community.

“We’ve been through feast, fire and famine here but succeeded because people are pouring every ounce of their professional energy into a love of food, coffee, community and young people,” Ms Rosa said.

Saje Ari, a Heart Café staff member, was part of Wingspan’s pilot group and began working at the Wayside Chapel op shop and now works at both social enterprises.

“I was living in independent transitional youth housing and when high school finished, I wanted to find something relatively stable to do and I found Wingspan through my caseworker,” Ms Ari told The Beast.

Heart Cafe serves up great food in the heart of Bondi. Photo: Brianna McNeillage

Ms Ari believes that the program will have long term positive impacts on her life.

“The most important thing was consistency and regularly having a safe space to visit. I’ve learned all about empathy and apathy and have been able to change my mindset.

“People who didn’t think they’d have anything to their name and had difficult childhoods that created survival instincts now have all this training to take them forward into adulthood,” Ms Ari said.

While there’s no shortage of cafes in the Bondi area, Heart Café offers not only great food (their fish tacos and middle eastern chicken salad are to die for) but the chance to contribute to lasting change for the young people working there.

“This space represents a very special moment in the lives of these young people and friendly customers who not only support the café but support them with a smile or a kind word mean so much,” Ms McNeillage told The Beast.

Heart Café is located at 95 Roscoe St Bondi Beach.