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    Café concept cooks up recipe for job training success

    One of the chief goals behind the new Center for Changing Lives in Minneapolis is to provide a one-stop social service location that offers multiple services in one place to help people get on their feet, emotionally, spiritually and financially. Housing, financial counseling, a job-hunting center, mental health counseling, parenting workshops, pregnancy counseling, adoption, a food shelf, an after-school program for kids and a Lutheran Church (Messiah Lutheran Church) are just some of the options you’ll find there.

    Now, a unique concept is underway to give people “on the job” training through an on-site café, run entirely by volunteers. “It is a unique combination of hospitality, social enterprise, and partnership between a Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota and Messiah Lutheran Church,” explained Jeri Nelsen, executive director.

    The Center Café — created after a year of planning with a committee of volunteers — not only helps to create a welcoming environment at the Center, but also promotes job training in food service, sales, customer service and small business development. 

    The café caters business lunches for public meetings at the Center, Phillips Neighborhood residents, visitors to the Center, students and employees of St. Mary’s College next door and other local organizations.  Hot soups, cold sandwiches, healthy snacks and beverages are served daily. In April, fresh salads will be added.

    Tami Champeau from St. Philip the Deacon Lutheran Church in Plymouth is one of two Café volunteer managers working directly with trainees through the LSS Employment Service at the Center to provide coaching and mentoring. 

    A certified public accountant, Champeau worked for 25 years in the business world but decided to become a stay-at-home mother last May. While her kids are in school, she looked for a meaningful volunteer opportunity and was recruited through her work as a food pantry volunteer for Messiah Lutheran Church.

    As a volunteer manager at the café, she mentors trainees, plans menus, does some of the cooking and serves customers. “What I really love are the relationships with the trainees, other volunteers and the customers,” she said. “There is such a unique blend of different cultures here and it’s a nice place in the community for people to gather. What’s really exciting is that our very first trainee now has a job because of the training she received at the Café.”

    Besides volunteer managers, the cooks at the Café are also volunteers from Messiah Lutheran Church and the local community.   But more volunteer support is needed.

    “We are attracting a wide variety of volunteers, some with professional skills and others who are retired and want to put their skills to work in a very meaningful way to help us plan new ways to expand the Cafe and mentor our trainees,” explained Cindy Johnson, volunteer coordinator at the Center. “But we also need volunteers to do other behind-the-scenes service, including baking, meal preparation and catering.”

    “Beyond the café,” she added, “we also have a critical need for volunteers who love kids and can provide child care to young parents in educational workshops or work with kids at Kaleidoscope Place, one of our partners in the Center. Volunteering is a great way to make a direct difference in someone’s life, and a perfect opportunity for congregations that want to get involved in our many ministries at the Center.”

    Get Involved with LSS! Search for Current Volunteer Opportunities in your area. 

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