Improving lives one bite at a time

John Chiv/For the Times-Standard
Posted: 09/15/2011 02:40:22 AM PDT

Where can you find reasonably-priced food, good customer service and support youth all in one visit? The Vance Café. Eating breakfast or lunch at the newly opened Eureka eatery is more than just having a good meal.
The Vance Café, located in the historic Vance Building in Eureka, is the latest job training site operated by Youth Ability, a local nonprofit that provides job training programs for young people. Youth Ability has also run the Angels of Hope Thrift store in Arcata for the last six years.
Executive Director Rose Baker, who is well-known for her passion and advocacy for Humboldt County youth, said young people who are struggling to make ends meet need a work history to help bring them out of their current situation.
”Youth in Humboldt County that come from families that face many challenges, including unstable living situations, struggle to get housing, work experience and employment,” Baker said. “Many of these youth struggle to stay connected with their families; they don't have the basic living skills, work history that their peers have and they want to be productive members of society.”
Trying to volunteer or maintain a job is difficult because the youth are conscious of the way they look due to their living situation, and they feel they cannot present themselves professionally. Angels of Hope was the first training program created to provide young people with real-world work skills while allowing them to be trained in an environment where they felt comfortable.
Since traveling to Arcata was difficult for some, a similar program was set up in Eureka.
With so many thrift stores already operating in Eureka, Baker and the board of directors started researching other options. They asked the youth what they wanted and many expressed an interest in the food industry. Two years ago, Youth Ability started looking at locations. At last year's Courage Night, Baker was one of the honorees. After that event, there was a follow-up meeting in the Vance lobby. Baker noticed the space was empty but it evoked for her a “soft and a very good feeling.” In addition to the board getting feedback from the community, they had assistance from the North Coast Small Business Development Center.
There have been other cafes at the same location, the most recent one being The Lobby Café and Lounge. Baker and Youth Ability's board have received feedback about what worked and did not work for these businesses and have incorporated that information into what they plan to offer.
Baker said having a place where families and youth can find entertainment like karaoke or poetry in a non-bar environment was a dream she had for years. Fortunately for her, the cafe's landlord -- Kramer Properties -- is also the landlord for the thrift store and has seen first-hand the progress and benefit of that training program. Baker and Kramer Properties began discussions and the Vance Café became a reality this year.
Any revenue after the café meets expenses goes toward the training program. Youth Ability now has two training centers using the social enterprise model and hopes in the future to have additional programs training youth in recycling and rebuilding materials.
The hours for the café are 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays. Future plans include catering and perhaps leasing space on the weekends. The café uses local produce and strives to use organic ingredients when possible. Most of their takeout containers and utensils are bio-degradable, compostable or post-consumer. Its furniture is recycled.
For more information, call 707-444-8466 or visit www. youthability.org for more information.