PODCAST Toowoomba

Emerge – A social enterprise for youth in Toowoomba


Andrew: Thank you very much for your company. Look, there’s a lot of community organisations out there, you know, they probably go about their day to day business largely unnoticed other than by those that they affect and in a lot of cases in a very, very positive way. There is an organisation that is exactly like that. It’s called Emerge from up in Toowoomba and they are doing work with our young people, our next generation. Those that maybe have been presented with not a great start in life, they may have found themselves to be homeless or just struggling and not being able to figure out where it is that they are going to play a role in to contributing positively to society. To have a chat with Jen from Emerge, we have Darrell on the line. He’s out of Toowoomba at the moment. Darrell, how are you?

Darrell: Yeah, I’m going well, mate. I’m actually in Santos, basically I’ve taken a couple of days to come down here and just feel the ground. It’s gone absolutely great, mate. I’m loving these weekly interviews that we’re doing. Really good.

Andrew: Yeah. Look, Darrell, thank you for you time and we have the technology. So you’re at in Stanthorpe as you just mentioned. Jen is in Toowoomba, so if you guys have a bit of a chat about this, this’ll help the community and Emerge and those people and I think Jen’s got quite a story to tell.

Darrell: Oh definitely mate. Well, morning Jen, welcome along. How are you?

Jen: I’m good, thank you.

Darrell: That’s great. You’ve had a great week away. You’ve been taking the kids away from some challenges for the week.

Jen: Absolutely, went to the beach just to recoup and revitalise. It’s been really cool.

Darrell: And well deserved, because you’ve been on a bit of a journey the last 12 months with Emerge. I remember meeting you a few years ago, you had the mobile food and catering van.

Jen: Yeah.

Darrell: Now you’ve acquired your source in Station Street. Just tell us a bit, you were actually sharing your experiences cause you were homeless at 13.

Jen: That’s right. I left my family home when I was 13, home was not a really nice place to be when I was younger…

Darrell: Uh-huh (affirmative).

Jen: And I sort of dropped out of school and spent a couple of years on the streets and you know, really disengaged from the community and my family. And you know, what if that happened back then, I was pregnant by the time I was 16, you know, I didn’t have a job or any money, so it was just thanks to some really cool mentors that helped me get life on track. So yeah. And that’ll happen here in Toowoomba. Absolutely love Toowoomba and I’ve always wanted to give back to the community that helped me.

Darrell: That’s right, and I remember when you opened Emerge, you were talking that at 16 you met a mentor, lovely lady who, you know, you then inspired yourself to inspire others.

Jen: Absolutely. Yeah. You know, we have a growing youth homelessness issue in Toowoomba, and not just youth homelessness. You know, we’ve got kids who are just really disengaged from school or family or you know, the greater community and I just feel really responsible that, you know, I can have a really big part in helping those kids get back on track.

Darrell: That’s correct. And the van, we had the van going but then an opportunity came up with Sauce in Station Street. Tell us the journey with Sauce and how that became Emerge.

Jen: Yeah, well we sort of… I have a long history in food catering, so you know, hospitality’s always come really natural to me. We started off this project with a youth drop in centre in the centre of town and we had a mobile food van, which was really cool. We were able to do a lot of events and continue our catering, but we were sort of, our youth drop in center’s parking was behind the former Sauce Kitchen down in Station Street. And we always had these big dreams of moving into a cafe and a cooking school. It was always sad, but it always felt really unachievable.
And then it kind of, as the universe does the things that it does, the performer I know approached us and said “hey, would you ever consider moving in right next door to a purpose built cooking school, a massive cafe?” And we sort of, we said yes, we knew it would take a lot of work. We did a major crowd funding campaign.

Darrell: Yes. And I said that was incredible that you reached out and you raised so much money in 48 hours.

Jen: Yeah. You know, we didn’t have high hopes, you know, crowd funding typically takes months of planning. We’ve done it previously and we kind of… We’d had another organisation raise part of the money for us and I sort of went, it was six days actually, and I said, you know, let’s just give it a go. What happens if we ask? And we asked and the Toowoomba community just really backed us, we had a lot of businesses throwing in money. And you know what was really cool, not, the big money was cool, but it was the little stuff too. You know, people giving their last 20 bucks trying to get behind the project was just really, really inspiring. So yeah, it was great.

Darrell: It’s definitely good. And look, if you’re in Toowoomba please call into Emerge in Station Street and enjoy the experience. It is closed Mondays though, you don’t open Mondays.

Jen: That’s right. We’re just delivering a couple of other projects on Mondays, privately, cooking class with the kids and a teen mums meet up group. But yeah, Tuesday through to Saturday and with, you know, Christmas coming up we’re increasing a lot of functions and things like that for Christmas parties and stuff. Yeah.

Darrell: Right. Excellent. And I’ve been involved in the boxing up at Rumours and you’re heavily involved in boxing and boxing is happening at Emerge and it’s a good way for the kids to engage with each other and really bond together. Tell us about your boxing event coming up on the 18th of October.

Jen: Yeah, so you know, boxing is kind of… hospitality’s is key to what we do. But the other element which might be weird for a cafe is the boxing. It’s not a common pair up, but I guess black hospitality’s been in my blood for a long time. My husband is a professional fighter, or was, he’s retired now. He’s, you know, 30 years in the sport. So we just know it’s in his blood and we just know the benefit boxing, for everybody. You know, for mental health and physical health. And also that team spirit. So, we deliver a drop in service down in the youth hub. Kids come and literally off the streets, and they come and do some training. Sometimes it’s just a one-off thing, but more often than not they keep coming back, and it’s the way that we engage them into our programmes and eventually into employment. So we’ve been doing that for a couple of years now and our boxing event is a corporate fight night.

Darrell: Okay.

Jen: And it’s just a cool way for our kids to show off their skills. And so that’s next on the 18th of October and our kids will be fighting and also some of our mentors, we have a lot of mentors and just corporate, so they’d get jumping in and packing a bit of a challenge as well.

Darrell: Right.

Jen: Yeah. So we’re kind of nestled in behind the Irish Club Hotel. So we asked them if we could host the little events in there and they said yes, so it’s kind of cool. We’ll be doing the food on the night, corporate table, general admission and just really fun, you know, and a really cool way to get in the corner of these kids who’ve been working so hard to get life on track and yeah.

Darrell: Okay. So how do people get tickets?

Jen: You can drop into the cafe and do them there. Give it to Cole, or get onto our Facebook page and there’s a pinned post at the top of our page that’s got all the details there, all the prices, the time and a link where you can do it online, which is probably the easiest way for everybody.

Darrell: Excellent. Look, this sounds like a great event. Never said… [Mick Shore 00:00:07:37], your husband, he’s certainly a great mentor and a great boxer and this is a great idea that you’re doing to engage the youth that are struggling to get to school and get off the streets.

Andrew: Yeah.

Darrell: [inaudible 00:07:48]

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Look, Jen, I do have a bit of a question because look, our society, you know, Australians, we like to think that everybody gets a fair go and they get a fairly equal start to life, but that certainly is not the case. There’s all sorts of reasons and circumstances as you know, why some young people, our next generation, might be disadvantaged at their start in life. Have you gotten any stories that you can tell us about of some of the successes that your organisation have enjoyed?

Jen: Yeah, absolutely. I guess the… One of the first young people come to mind, and there’s many, is one of our young fellows, named Liam. He’s 19. He showed up to a drop in centre probably in January, I think it was. And you know, he was couch surfing, he’d been experiencing a lot of drug addiction, a lot of mental health issues. He came only to get some food and some hygiene packs. We give those out at the youth hub. And at that time it was when we were setting up the cafe actually, and he said “oh, what are you guys doing?” And we explained what we were doing, and he jumped straight in and wanted just to help us stick the right stuff.
And then he learned a little bit more about our boxing and he thought he’d give it a go. You know, he’s a 19 year old, young man, that’s really appealing, which is what’s so great about the boxing, you know, he wasn’t ready to work. He said that, you know, life’s been really tough, my mental state isn’t awesome at all. But he just wanted to do the boxing and he wanted to help. So we sort of had him around helping with dishes on his terms and doing the boxing. And over time he just became a lot more engaged, showing up to training early. And when you start, to say keep showing up early, leaving late, that’s a really cool thing to watch. You know that they’re engaged, you know that they’re committed. He eventually started getting some paid shifts. He was ready to do some paid shifts with us in the cafe. And you know, he used to show up for shifts that he wasn’t rostered on for. He wanted to help. He wanted to do extra stuff.

Andrew: Oh, that’s awesome.

Jen: I hear all the time, you know, kids are lazy, they don’t want to work, but I see the total opposite where we are, you know, kids are so keen to have a go. And now he now got his own place. He’s in a shared accommodation. He’s been living there for about three months. He’s got a full time job with a fish and chip shop. He still comes to training early, always leaves late. He’s a really great mentor to other young people. He’s just got his licence. He said to me a couple of weeks ago, he said, “aw man, it just feels so amazing to have my life on track, I feel so happy.” And it was just one of those moments where, you know, cause it’s [inaudible 00:10:29] and it just reminds you of why we do what we do.
He was this kid, you know, and he just rocked up homeless, you know, he told us recently too that one day he didn’t show up to training and one of our mentors gave him a ring and said, where are you mate? And he said, you know, “I’m at the end, I don’t want to, I think life’s over for me.” And mentor said, no, no, you need to just come in, come in and just show up. And he came in and he told us that because that mentoe reached out to him, he was going to commit suicide. So, but now he’s a totally different kid. He’s just this energy now. He walks into the room and he’s got so much beautiful energy and he works hard, he wants better. And it’s just amazing to see that turn around.

Andrew: Yeah, isn’t that fantastic? Hey, so not only do you help the individual in question, but you’re taking somebody that is potentially going to be quite a burden on society and turning them into somebody that is going to absolutely contribute and really stand up and be a good representative of the next generation.

Jen: Oh, absolutely. We see it all the time. I just think sometimes kids get themselves into this place where, you know, the only thing they know is to choose something bad or to choose the bad behaviour. But underneath all that, it’s just a need and usually that need is around belonging and love and we keep that. And I just, sometimes they’ll show up and they, on the surface it just looks like they’re the naughtiest kid out there that you know, and I just think, oh wow, you have so much potential. And I think when you start treating them like that, that they have so much potential and you believe in them, then things just start to shift quite quickly. And I think, you know, a big part of what we do at Emerge is trying to educate the community on that treatment. You know, they’re just kids, they’re just like everybody else. So, they have so much potential and we’re so happy to be able to give them that platform, you know, where they can really grow and become mentors to other kids as well.

Darrell: I don’t know about you Andrew, I’ve just had some goosebumps listening to that story about Liam. That’s just amazing.

Andrew: Oh yeah, absolutely. And isn’t that tremendous that we can just play this small part, this small role in helping enable organisations like Emerge and just for us to be able to witness the hard work and the results that people like Jen and that are achieving.

Darrell: I know.

Jen: Yeah.

Darrell: It’s just amazing.

Andrew: Okay. Well thank you very much for your time, Jen and Darrell. We will look if anybody wants any further information. And for you, Jen, it’s not just for this event that’s coming up or for people that may want to support what you’re doing, but also maybe there is somebody listening to this that is finding themselves in a situation that isn’t great. How do they best get in contact with you?

Jen: You know, drop in and see us anytime down at 1 Station Street, and that is the cafe or the youth hub. You know, or Facebook is a really good way to keep up to date with what we’re doing and different events and reach out. You know, it’s always a good idea to send us a message if you’re not sure about how to reach out.

Darrell: That’s great. Excellent.

Andrew: Thank you very much for your time.

Darrell: Thanks, Jen.

Jen: No worry, thanks so much.