Cafe serves up hope for young workers

TUCKED away inside the Holt Community Centre is a cafe proactively changing the story of disability and employment in the community.

Trainee Jordan D’Ambrosio is watched by supervisor Stevie Beattie and support worker Lorna Keogh. Photo by Gary Schafer

Trainee Jordan D’Ambrosio is watched by supervisor Stevie Beattie and support worker Lorna Keogh. Photo by Gary Schafer

Branch Out Cafe, opened last year by Carers ACT, provides an opportunity for young adult school leavers with a disability to learn new skills, with a view to transition to employment in the hospitality industry.

Up to six trainees at the cafe learn how to clean, handle money, deliver meals and prepare food and drinks under the guidance of a supervisor and two support workers. At the end of their tenure, usually a year depending on competency, most trainees receive a Certificate 1 in Work Preparation.

“It feels good to be working here,” says trainee Jordan D’Ambrosio, 21, who has been working at Branch Out three days a week since July.

“I like finding my cooking skills, because I did cooking in high school. My favourite job at the cafe is making food, taking orders, making drinks and deliveries. I want to have a restaurant career when I leave.”

This month, the cafe won a Chief Minister’s inclusion award for tourism and hospitality and in November was named team of the year at the disability support worker awards. Manager Amanda McAlister says there was “nothing else” like it in Canberra when it opened.

“There was a huge gap for people with a disability when leaving school, they might have had certain skills but they needed a little bit more help to transition to employment, so this program was created to give them a bit of a leg-up,” she says.

“A lot of the trainees will start out very quiet, but you see them really come out of their shell, their confidence just grows.”

Supervisor Stevie Beattie hopes more businesses in Canberra’s hospitality industry will open up to the idea of hiring an employee with a disability.

“I understand that it’s a difficult one for a hospitality worker,” he says.

“There are rewards though, quite often people with a disability are very loyal, they learn the task, they keep doing the task, and they’re happy to keep doing it. If you tailor a job and tasks specifically to them, and train them in it, nine times out of 10 you’ll get a very loyal and capable worker who is productive.”

Support staff member Lorna Keogh, who has a background in nursing and disability support, says: “So many of the trainees have really surprised me with how well they have performed on the job, and we’ve had feedback from their parents saying they love their new-found independence.”

“If you set the bar high, they will reach it.”

Branch Out Cafe, open from 9am-1pm, Monday-Friday. More information at

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