We recognize that it takes a village to drive successful culinary job training programs; from delivering life skills to demonstrating knife cuts in the kitchen, there are many hands involved in supporting students. The Catalyst for Change Award was created in 2015 to recognize exemplary individuals within our network for their dedication and embodiment of their organization’s mission. We want to shine a spotlight on those dedicating their time, passion, and resources to guide their students towards a successful career path in foodservice.
This year we are thrilled to recognize Jeru Gobeze, Café & Training Program Manager at Fresh Grounds by RS EDEN in St. Paul, Minnesota. She has been with Fresh Grounds for close to 4 years and is a leader in teaching young adults to master barista skills, improving their customer service, and creating success in the workplace. Jeru does a little bit of everything at Fresh Grounds, providing 1:1 training support for students and managing the café’s sales and revenue targets.
Jeru was nominated for the Catalyst for Change Award by Kynda Stull, RS EDEN Service Director, who highlighted three of Jeru’s major accomplishments:
Jeru led the Café in doubling catering sales over the 2018 year by working smarter and cutting expenses without sacrificing one iota of customer service.
She personally oversaw Barista and Café training to youth experiencing a wide range of challenges, including being deaf and hard of hearing, legally blind, in recovery from substance use disorder, and currently homeless.
She enhanced RS EDEN’s social justice principles with affirmative action hiring, raising the minimum wage, and ensuring an inclusive café environment.
We interviewed Jeru to learn a little bit more about her experience and what inspired her to take on her position serving youth at RS EDEN. It is easy to feel her excitement about her students’ learning process and success in the program.
Interview conducted by former CK staff member, Corinne Molz
Corinne (CK): Could you give us an overview of the Fresh Grounds job training program?
Jeru: Fresh Grounds is a training program for youth and young adults ages 15-24 experiencing barriers to employment, such as homelessness or physical, developmental, or learning disability. We provide on the job training in a full-service cafe. After trainees complete the initial 4-week training program in the cafe, they can begin a second training phase that would either place them in an internship or pair them with our Vocational Specialist to find employment.
Fresh Grounds’ Vocational Specialist Kathy Coolidge helps students prepare for future employment with resume writing, identifying career goals, interview practice, and providing job shadow opportunities to test out different positions. Outside of employment services, Kathy connects students with stable housing opportunities and supports school re-enrollment.
Corinne (CK): Definitely need all those wraparound services for student success. Can you tell us about your story about Fresh Grounds? When you started there, your role, and how your work is involved in the mission?
Jeru: Before my role at Fresh Grounds I worked two jobs as a part-time youth worker and a part-time barista. I started at Fresh Grounds in 2015 as the Youth Training Program Manager, so it felt like I combined those roles together! In my role as Cafe & Training Program Manager, I provide 1:1 training on hard barista skills and the soft skills necessary to be successful in any job.
Corinne (CK): What attracted you to Fresh Grounds’ mission upon taking your position rather than working for a for-profit business?
Jeru: I was excited about creating this space for youth to create a successful and positive start to their employment experience. Someone’s first job can set the tone for their future career.
Corinne (CK): Definitely. What has been most surprising to you in this role?
Jeru: The first phase of our training model is 4 weeks, so we have a lot of students coming in and out of the café operations throughout the year. Workplace turnover can be a drain on any team, but I’ve been surprised by how refreshing it is to have a new group of students in the café every month. It’s a monthly dose of energy and I am constantly looking at the café with fresh eyes.
Corinne (CK): Happy to hear that the natural training turnover has a positive effect, I can see how it could also be difficult to change teams so frequently. Have there been any specific students that have influenced you during your time here?
Jeru: Definitely! There have been trainees that challenged me to think outside the box about my training approach and communication style. I’ve learned how to adapt to different student learning styles throughout the years and have gained a lot in the process.
Corinne (CK): What is the most common pathway for students after the Fresh Grounds program?
Jeru: We provide vocational support throughout the program. Kathy works with students to help gauge their interests and next goals from the beginning. Most students are interested in employment after the first phase of the program, some are focused on educational goals like enrolling in local collegiate programs for their career development or reenrolling in high school courses.
Corinne (CK): If you could tell the person succeeding you in this role one thing about how to do your job well, what would tell them?
Jeru: This work does not take place in a vacuum. Embrace it! It takes communication with referring social services partners, schools, vocational specialists, families, operations staff, and many others to have a successful training model. Not to mention it will make your job easier! You’ll learn a lot about you students’ strengths, interests, and circumstances that will help you tailor the curriculum to be most effective for them.
Corinne (CK): Takes a village! Is there an achievement or contribution that you are most proud of?
Jeru: I’m proud that I doubled the number of trainees who successfully completed our training program and doubled catering sales in the process. Managing a mission-driven business like our program can be a crazy balancing act- growing this business model can be even more challenging.
Ultimately, Jeru’s work has doubled catering sales AND student enrollment, meaning more students served and more revenue generated to support future students. Well, we’re impressed! Thank you to Jeru for everything you do for Fresh Grounds Café and this training model on a national level. Jeru exudes joy in her work each day. Her passion for this work has set students on the path to employment and housing stability with the soft skills needed in any career. The Fresh Grounds Cafe is a part of our Starbucks "We Proudly Serve" program with access to wholesale Starbucks products, offsetting their cafe's operational costs to put more resources into their students' needs.
We had many inspiring and impressive staff members nominated for the 2018 Catalyst for Change award and plan to highlight their stories throughout this yearto showcase their dedication to their programs and student's success.