The lunch rush is through and Jeffery Smith is washing dishes inside the kitchen of Breaking Ground Café. Located within the YMCA on Wright Crescent in Kingston’s mid-town, Breaking Ground Café is one of several businesses run by Jobwell, a not-for-profit organization supported operationally by Providence Care. Jobwell Social Enterprise (formerly VOCEC) creates supportive and meaningful employment opportunities for adults living with persistent mental illness.
“It is absolutely amazing being in a supportive employment environment,” says Jeffery. “This is somewhere, where if you are having a rough day, everybody understands. We can be honest with our supervisors and tell them about our anxiety, or whatever it might be, and know without a doubt we’re not going to be judged for it.”
The self-proclaimed “jack-of-all-trades” works at three of Jobwell’s businesses: Breaking Ground Café, Jobwell’s Cleaning Company and Hands On Car Wash. Jeffrey is on the autism spectrum and experiences mental health challenges. As a Breaking Ground Café associate for nine-and-a-half years, he is one of a few employees who can look back on how far the café has come as the business celebrates its tenth anniversary.
“Over the last ten years this business has grown so much and we’ve really worked out all the kinks. It almost doesn’t seem like the same business. One thing has remained the same however, everyone actually cares about you.”
Jennifer Bellamy knows exactly what Jeffery means. She started working for VOCEC in 1999, nearly 15 years after doctors diagnosed her with Schizophrenia and told her she could not work. Jennifer started at Breaking Ground Café just a few months after it opened in 2013 and has worked two shifts a week for the last ten years.
“I was 21 and had just finished college when I was diagnosed. I really didn’t know what was going to happen to me when doctors were saying I couldn’t work. If you work in a regular environment, it’s easy to feel like you’re alone in your health struggles, like you have to hide what’s going on with you which is impossible. Working here, I’ve proven I can work, I enjoy the support, and the ability to work a few hours a week.”
Jeffery and Jennifer are just two of hundreds of individuals who have found supportive work with Jobwell since it first began as VOCEC in the fall of 1993. In 2013, when Breaking Ground Café opened, it was the first large scale food business for Jobwell and it would go on to lay the foundation for two other cafés; At the Lake Café located at Providence Care Hospital and Great Lakes Kitchen located at 525 Montreal Street.
“Most people think that we’re a café just for the YMCA community but we actually provide all the snacks and meals for the daycare in the building, so three meals a day for upwards of 60 children,” says Affirmative Business Support Worker and Supervisor of Breaking Ground Café, Sheila Elsey. “It was a massive leap and undertaking for Jobwell and a first step into making mass produced food,” she adds.
Sheila works closely with Leah Publicover who is also an Affirmative Business Support Worker and Supervisor.
“Providing meals to the daycare is our bread and butter,” says Leah. “What makes Breaking Ground so unique is those two main relationships, the one we have with the daycare, as well as the one we have with front of house, YMCA customers.”
Providing meals to a licensed daycare means everything must follow Ministry food guidelines. Over the last ten years, Breaking Ground Café has prepared over 130,000 lunches and 325,000 snacks for the YMCA’s daycare.
“It is a bit of a puzzle putting together menus because there are strict rules about how many fruits and veggies are served, the variety of meats, making sure there is a vegetarian option, the amount of protein, things like that,” says Sheila.
Sheila and Leah create four-week rotating menus for the daycare, which the staff prepare and cook all from scratch in addition to the sandwiches, baked goods and coffee served front of house. Multiple staff work on rotating shifts to make the day-to-day operations run smoothly. All of this happens in a work environment that is inclusive, compassionate and understanding, and supports people who might not otherwise be able to find employment.
“The team at Breaking Ground Café are continually innovating,” says Manager of the Jobwell-Affirmative Businesses, Laura Novitsky. “They meet all the requirements of the Day Nurseries Act for supplying the daycare on a large commercial scale, while simultaneously running a café business, various catering contracts, the YMCA’s summer camp lunch program, and even their own line of artisan breads (baked fresh on site). They do all this while fostering a compassionate and supportive work environment.”
Jeffery and Jennifer agree the community at Breaking Ground Café is truly unique given the combination of Providence Care, Jobwell staff and the YMCA patrons. They both say it is hard to believe ten whole years have gone by; giving truth to the age-old saying – time really flies when you are having fun.
Congratulations to the Breaking Ground Café community on ten inspiring years in business!