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Retail ready: Jobs training available through new Hospitality House thrift store

Lorraine Jewett
Special to The Union
Former Hospitality House guest Kayla Sylva completed both the culinary and retail sales job training programs.
Submitted photo |

Homeless. Jobless.

That’s the double whammy life dealt 29-year-old Kayla Sylva — but she takes responsibility.

“Life was really bad, and I was making really bad choices,” she said.

Now she has a home and full-time employment at a local pizza restaurant. She credits two job training programs at Hospitality House, Nevada County’s homeless shelter.

“I learned more than cooking and retail. I learned confidence and how to be a better person,” said Sylva.

For the past two years, Hospitality House has operated a culinary training program in which “students” work in the shelter’s commercial kitchen. Now, there is a new job training program available to HH guests. Earlier this summer, Hospitality House opened a thrift store which is used to teach skills needed to succeed in the retail sales industry.

“We use whatever means we have to help give them job skills,” explained Debbie McDonald, HH Development Director, who oversees education, fundraising and communications. “At the shelter, we have the asset of a commercial kitchen, so we have a culinary job skills training program. Now we have a new asset in this retail store, so we’re using it to make money for the shelter and also to provide job skills for our guests.”

The Bread and Roses Thrift Store opened June 18. HH staff initially projected the thrift store would generate $48,000 in net annual profits, which would be used to help fund the shelter. Reviewing the budget after the first five months of operation, store staff recently predicted revenues may exceed expectations.

Hospitality House is the only emergency homeless shelter in Nevada County, offering 54 beds throughout most of the year and expanding to 69 beds in winter. The men, women and children who stay there are referred to as guests. They receive vouchers they can spend at Bread and Roses.

“We are a shelter that provides pathways to housing. We are not a destination. We help people remove obstacles to housing. One of those obstacles can be the lack of job skills,” added McDonald.

The retail sales job training program at the store is in its pilot phase, with many details still being hammered out. Although it won’t begin in earnest until January, six HH guests have participated in the pilot training program.

“There are several different categories,” outlined Rochelle Rountree, manager of Bread and Roses. “Guests receive donations at our drive-through service behind the store, so they learn what we can and can’t accept. Then they move to the production room, where they do cleaning, hanging, and tagging. Every piece of clothing is neat, wrinkle-free, and ready to be worn — not a stain on it or a button missing. Next is stocking and merchandising, when guests create visually-pleasing displays. Cashiering includes loss prevention, stocking and customer service.”

Rountree said guests are also taught how to write a resume, what to wear for a job interview, how to answer prospective employers’ questions and how to best follow-up after an interview.

“They leave here ‘retail ready,’” said Rountree, who has 25 years of experience owning and managing thrift stores.

Rountree said she wants to develop a list of retailers and other businesses willing to interview and potentially hire HH guests who complete the retail job training program.

There are two other ongoing needs: more donations, and more volunteers.

“The highest cost of running this store is labor,” explained Rountree.

One of six part-time staff members is Frank Bandy, who lived at the Hospitality House shelter for four months after years on the street.

“I was both drinking and addicted. My first day clean and sober was there at the house,” said Bandy, who has been sober nearly two years.

The former Marine began volunteering at Bread and Roses, and eventually worked his way into a paid position.

“I wasn’t looking for a job, but I love the people I work for,” said Bandy, who does pick-ups and deliveries. “I feel good when I’m helping people because I love to see people happy. This changed my life, for sure.”

Planning for the thrift store began several years ago. HH raised $40,000 in donations, and volunteers painted the store’s walls, installed electrical systems, and built display racks.

Meanwhile, the Hospitality House culinary job training program has been thriving for the past two years. So far, 63 guests (referred to as students) have completed the six-week culinary training program called Hospitality House Serves. Three-fourths of those have since found jobs, housing — or both.

“Students obtain entry-level food service skills,” explained Kitchen Manager Jeff Olson. “They learn food safety, the basics of nutrition, fundamentals of understanding the modern kitchen, and baking.”

The culinary program offers even more experience and raises money for HH through its outside catering enterprises. Students have helped cater various events in the community, and in September, Hospitality House Serves catered a fashion show at Bread and Roses.

A culminating assignment of the program sees students prepare a banquet, based on their own menus, which is served to all the guests at the shelter. Students earn a professional chef’s coat, and after graduation, they receive assistance developing a career portfolio and preparing for job interviews.

Sylva, the restaurant worker who moved out of the shelter six months ago, admitted she had few skills before graduating from both the culinary and retail sales programs.

“It was life-altering. It changed my life 100 times over,” she said.

Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. To suggest a business news feature story, contact her at LorraineJewettWrites@gmail.com.

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