How a kitchen door opened a future of possibility

A little over a year ago Jackson was, in his own words, “sitting around at home not doing much”.

Flash forward to today and he quickly packs away food in the freezer and cleans off chopping boards as he rushes through the end of his shift to talk to Aurora about his full-time employment in hospitality that has inspired him to study at TAFE, while he dreams of travelling in the future.

It’s not just these day-to-day practical components of his life that have changed. “My confidence and level of responsibility is very different,” he said.
“I’m pretty impressed with my cutting skills now, I have so many new recipes and have learnt so much in the kitchen but also things like my thinking skills too. When I first started my boss had to tell me everything, now I know what to do and like to just get on with it.”.

It’s this initiative and growth that’s seen Jackson move from a trainee to an apprentice. In four years, after more on the job training and some study at TAFE he will be a qualified chef.

Why the turnaround in ambition and purpose for the 18-year-old? In one word – employment.

But not just any old job, a role in a supportive environment at the new social enterprise café and catering service in Newcastle West.
Martha is run by CatholicCare and seeks to create a positive impact offering employment pathways for vulnerable people
in our community.

For many of us, obtaining employment is about more than just having a job. It’s an opportunity to gain experience, fulfil needs, develop financial independence and create a connection with community and other people.

It’s these connections that have served Jackson well these past 12 months. Living in Supported Independent Living, his case worker mentioned the new café was looking for staff.

“I was keen but I had never had a job and I was so nervous coming to the interview here. My boss, John was really nice and made me feel comfortable.”

It’s clear Head Chef, John Du’Bery has been key to the support and mentoring Jackson has found at Martha.

“I remember Jackson’s interview well. He didn’t even want to make eye contact but look at him now, it’s such a credit to him. It’s so cool to see the other guys look up to him and seek guidance as well,” John said.

“Jackson can run that kitchen now, he’s come that far. All the guys here have. I was sick the other week and Jackson just stepped up. He had everything running and it’s amazing to see the change when staff just light up.”

“The whole reason I’m here is to get our young trainees thinking differently, give them a step forward.”
John works at Martha to pass on the knowledge he has gained through 28 years’ experience in hospitality. He works alongside the young trainees instructing them.

“That’s the key, I’m one of the team too and it’s teaching by observing and me guiding them. Sometimes we need to break rules and re-learn things. That’s part of the journey,” he laughs.

The CatholicCare Social Enterprise Program commenced in 2021 and has three projects – a commercial cleaning service, Martha café and catering service and CatholicCare Housie which takes place on Thursday and Saturday nights at the Southern Cross Hall. All initiatives aim to deliver sustainable and professional services while employing individuals in our local community.

The Social Enterprise program does not receive any government funding and all profits go towards funding other social justice programs, such as CatholicCare Community Kitchens which currently serve 1,000 meals to vulnerable individuals and families each week.

Priscilla Scanlon is the Manager of the Social Enterprise Program and sees the impact the team makes in lives each day.

“Martha café and catering really enhances our capacity to support the community where they need it most. Any profits go back to helping others in the community so there are so many benefits to this model – we’re training people in hospitality and cleaning plus giving back to those in need,” she said.

“I have previously worked with young people and supported them in accommodation and have a history with this work so personally, when I see young people like Jackson grow and develop so much in this setting it’s just so meaningful. I honestly think we get as much out of this work as they do. It really is very inspiring to see them learn and, in many ways, change their own lives and futures. Jackson has taken control of his life and he can see that he has very real and exciting options for his future. It’s the perfect outcome.”

When Jackson is asked if he ever saw himself working in hospitality, he laughs.
“No way! I probably didn’t even know all this was a thing. It’s opened my eyes to a lot, being here. I hadn’t ever eaten carrot cake and I didn’t know arancini balls existed. I’ve learnt so much about food but then I also feel so responsible being here. I feel like John needs me and it’s a sense a responsibility and being part of this team that’s so great.”

“It gets hectic. At first it scared the crap out of me. I’d see order lines when we get busy at lunch and feel worried. Now I feel like my adrenaline gets going but I just need to think through and remember what to do - I’m more focused, I know I can do it,” he said.

“Working here has made me a lot busier but in a good way, I’m not at home as much and I have long days but that’s made me more active and I get out. One of the main things I’ve learnt is just push myself and give things a go.”

Jackson has a message for other young people who may feel a little lost.

“I’d probably want others to know how great the people here are. The team has been so supportive.”

“The job has let me learn so much. I have actually learnt more in this last year than for so many years before,”
he said.

“Just getting a job changed me – even little things like I know public transport much better now and can get anywhere in Newcastle. You can do things differently, if you want to, and there are people who really care.”

And with such a meaningful 12 months behind him, Jackson’s hopes for the future are now quite different.

“Once I get my chef’s certificate I think I want to travel and then settle - I’m not really sure if I want to work in a real fancy restaurant or other cafes but I think I have options. John told me about how he travelled and worked as a chef and that’s just got me thinking about all my options too,” Jackson said.

Martha café hasn’t given Jackson these future options, he has found them within after being inspired by those around him. It is the employment and the opportunity for connection that provided a sense of purpose and opened a mind to new skills and hopes for a future full of possibility.

If you would like to donate to support our Social Enterprise, or sponsor a trainee like Jackson, visit:

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