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Originally published June 20, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 20, 2007 at 2:02 AM

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Budget cuts brew trouble for barista job training for homeless

Following federal budget cuts in the last few years, the Seattle Workforce Development Council recently eliminated funding to the YouthCare's...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Mark Bennett works the counter at Seattle's Café @ 2100 with a smile, serving coffee and sandwiches. He seems indistinguishable from a thousand other young coffeehouse workers, but just a few months ago, he was homeless.

"I like the fact that I can make something and put pride in it," said Bennett, who will graduate from YouthCare's Barista Training and Education Program (BTEP) on Friday.

Bennett, however, may be part of the last class of BTEP graduates. Following federal budget cuts in the last few years, the Seattle Workforce Development Council recently eliminated funding to the program.

YouthCare is a Seattle-based outreach program that provides housing and employment training to homeless youth. The organization worked with FareStart, a program that trains homeless people for work in the food-service industry, to create the BTEP. There, over eight weeks, homeless youth learn various job skills in a hands-on learning environment. Barista training, program leaders say, gives students a skill they can always use and allows them to make slightly more money than they would in a minimum-wage job market.

More than 280 people between the ages of 16 and 21 have participated in the BTEP since it began in 2003. "Our main goal isn't to help them get a job as a barista," said program director Loretta Kennedy. "Our main goal is to get them re-engaged with the community. Sometimes that means they are re-engaged with their family; sometimes it's their first positive learning experience."

During the program's first two weeks, students are introduced to budgeting skills and the history of coffee production. The students then move to the FareStart Café @ 2100 in South Seattle, which gives them hands-on experience in the food industry. In the week before graduation from the program, they move back to the classroom to learn interview skills, résumé-building techniques and the possibilities for post-program jobs and education.

Six students are currently enrolled in the training program, which holds 11 sessions per year. Since the program began, 80 percent of the program's students have graduated, and 68 percent of those graduates have gone on to jobs.

But program funding is cut annually. In its first year, the BTEP received $430,000 from the Workforce Development Council (WDC). This year, funding was cut by $100,000, and in May, officials learned that the program would no longer receive any money.

As federal funding of the Workforce Development Act has been cut, so has money for the nonprofit Seattle WDC. The WDC has stopped funding several other programs, according to agency chief executive Kris Stadelman.

"We were in bigger trouble than ever before, and we eliminated a couple of programs. It was extremely painful to make those decisions. We didn't cut a program that wasn't worthy — they were all worthy," Stadelman said.

YouthCare and FareStart have been searching for public and private donors to keep the program going for about $200,000 a year. While costs could be lowered by admitting fewer students to the program, Loretta Kennedy said, the program is opposed to that idea. "The fewer students you have, the less successful the program is," she said. "There's something great you have when you have a group of six to eight students. It's a team dynamic, and they help support each other."

FareStart and YouthCare are currently contacting donors, hoping to run a training program in the fall. "One of the things I like most about the program is that students begin something and finish it," said Shellie Gravitt, a barista trainer at Café @ 2100. "When they are finished, they have a sense of accomplishment from staying in the program. If other experiences haven't been successful, it's a really good way for them to feel a sense of success."

Rachel Fields: 206-464-3305 or rfields@seattletimes.com

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