Profits from Willow Bean Cafe re-invested in mental health programs
Before starting as a barista at the Vancouver General Hospital’s Willow Bean Cafe, Caer Weber hadn’t worked for more than a year.
“It can be tough having a regular job sometimes,” said Weber, who’s living with post-traumatic stress and depression. “But working at Willow Bean has changed that.”
Located in Willow Pavilion, the Willow Bean Cafe officially opened its doors March 27 to VCH staff and anyone else in the neighbourhood seeking a good cup of coffee. Employing people recovering from a range of mental illnesses, the café provides Caer and her co-workers the opportunity to build confidence while learning employable skills.
Weber sounds upbeat when talking about the café and her new job.
“It shows me that I’m still competent and a part of society – I love interacting with the customers,” she said. “It shows that even if you have a mental illness, you can still function and be normal.
As manager of the Willow Bean Cafe, Jarrod Surrette has seen a number of changes in both his staff and himself.
“When the staff first arrived, they were so pulled in,” Surrette says. “Now I hear about their families and their cats and dogs. Yesterday, we were talking about mental illness and today we were talking about hockey. They’ve really opened up and it’s amazing.”
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Government support for Willow Bean Cafe
B.C. Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid was on hand to pour coffee and officially open the Willow Bean Cafe.
“Employment is one of the ways that we feel connected with our community,” said MacDiarmid. “The supported employment program at Willow Bean Cafe is helping to remove the stigma of mental health issues and letting people who are recovering from mental illness know that they have an important role to play in their neighbourhood.”
The supported employment program at the Willow Bean Cafe is a partnership between Vancouver Coastal Health, the Canadian Mental Health Association, Vancouver – Burnaby Branch and Sodexo Canada, a food and facilities management company. The program allows employees to learn valuable social and employment skills, while continuing to access mental health supports and receive a regular paycheque.
“It’s common for some individuals recovering from mental illness to have a hard time finding and maintaining employment because of the stigmas associated with mental illness,” said Laura Case, director of Mental Health and Addictions at Vancouver Coastal Health.
Creating a community
“It also helps our clients at Willow Pavilion,” said Chris Flynn, manager of programs at the Willow Pavilion. “It demonstrates hope to our clients to be able to see folks employed and experiencing what most people do in life, and in spite of having had difficulties with their own mental health.”
Flynn says the Willow Bean Cafe has become a central meeting place where people are getting to know one another over a cup of coffee.
Currently, six mental health clients are employed at the café as baristas and work alongside an employment support co-ordinator to learn various skills including teamwork, accepting constructive criticism and goal-setting. Clients interested in working at the café must submit a resume and participate in a competitive interview process held by Sodexo, who manages the Willow Bean Cafe and its employees.
One hundred per cent of profits made at the Willow Bean Cafe will go back to fund mental health programs at the Canadian Mental Health Association, Vancouver – Burnaby Branch.
It is anticipated that participants will transition to other employment opportunities within a year.
“We’ve always been committed to promoting and embracing diversity within the organization, and employ a variety of individuals with mental and physical disabilities,” said Dean Johnson, president of Sodexo Canada.
Surrette says his staff have become more comfortable over the months of working at the cafe.
“It’s a huge compliment to me when they open up,” said Surrette, who is an employee of Sodexo. “At first I thought it would be hard and now it’s just incredible.”
Surrette says he is growing and learning, too.
“I find that with our staff, with how they challenge themselves to succeed, it’s inspirational and I want to push myself,” he said. “When, I’m around my staff, I feel like I can achieve anything.”
Weber says that while she still has tough days, the people and the work at Willow Bean Cafe are making her life better.
“I love making the cappuccinos and lattes, the ones with steamed milk,” she said. “But I can’t do the designs…yet.”
“That’s a whole different level,” she adds with a laugh.