Disabled youths hone their skills at a new training cafe on Auckland’s North Shore

Ariel Knight hopes her Flourish Cafe training will help her find paid work at a cafe near her home in Massey.

Caroline Williams / Stuff

Ariel Knight hopes her Flourish Cafe training will help her find paid work at a cafe near her home in Massey.

A new training café in Auckland is giving young people with learning disabilities the chance to learn new skills.

Project Employ recently opened the Flourish Cafe in Takapuna to serve as a springboard for young people with disabilities who want to upskill and find gainful employment.

Sarah Dann-Hoare, director of the charity, previously worked at Wairau Valley Special School and found that pupils ‘slipped through the net’ when it came to finding jobs after finishing their studies.

“No one would give them a chance when they left.”

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Sarah Dann-Hoare, director of Project Employ, has long dreamed of opening a training café to help young people with learning difficulties find paid work.

Caroline Williams / Stuff

Sarah Dann-Hoare, director of Project Employ, has long dreamed of opening a training café to help young people with learning difficulties find paid work.

Dann-Hoare was inspired by training cafes in America and the UK and dreamed of opening her own for about eight years.

When Como St Cafe hit the market last year, she decided to give it a shot by starting Project Employ with the help of a local family who bought the business.

There are currently five interns at the cafe. After six months, it is hoped that their work experience will help them land gainful employment elsewhere.

“We help them get ready to work,” Dann-Hoare said.

Since starting out at the cafe, Ariel Knight, 30, has learned to take orders, serve food and drinks, print receipts and clean tables.

She particularly enjoys taking orders from office staff over coffee and has even memorized some of her customers’ names and orders.

Billy Lupton enjoys using the cash register and has improved his cash handling skills since working at the Flourish Cafe.

Caroline Williams / Stuff

Billy Lupton enjoys using the cash register and has improved his cash handling skills since working at the Flourish Cafe.

“I like working with people.”

Knight’s mother, Odette Knight, said it had been difficult for her daughter to find a job with extra support.

Knight was shy before starting at the cafe, Odette added.

“His confidence has really improved.”

“She looks at me to reassure me, but she does it less and less.”

Once she’s done with Flourish Cafe, Knight hopes to find work at a cafe closer to her home in Massey.

“It doesn’t matter if you are disabled or not. That shouldn’t stop you. Don’t give up on your dreams.

Billy Lupton, 22, enjoys working at the cash register and has improved his cash handling skills, including adding coins.

“Math was my worst enemy in high school.”

An avid gamer, Lupton would like to work at a game store, like EB Games, in the future.

Anyone interested in becoming a coffee intern can email Dann-Hoare at [email protected]

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