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Helping forever ‘break the cycle’

2 September 2013

“We had a young girl whose parents had never worked a day in their life, and their parents had never worked. She came in at the end of last year and she was working and was so proud. She said: ‘I just told Centrelink ‘I don’t need you, I don’t want you’. That’s huge – that’s generational! She is going to teach that ethic to her own kids one day.” Darryl Smiles

Salvation Army Youthlink Café Horizons trainer and assessor Darryl Smiles knows his surname doesn’t always match his outward appearance.

He laughs and says he probably seems quite “gruff” to new trainees on the innovative program. He pushes them hard to achieve their very best; to offer an excellent standard of professionalism to customers and become as highly “work ready” as possible in 20 weeks.

Darryl understands the issues and stigma that many youth in the St Mary’s area of Sydney (NSW) face better than many. He grew up in the area and says, “It’s tough here. It always has been.

“I got a job at the Sydney Opera House as an apprentice chef,” Darryl says. “People were actually scared of me … So I ‘get’ these kids.”

Café Horizons St Mary’s (with another at Cabramatta) provides work experience and accredited vocational training to at-risk young people, including many recovering from drug dependence.

The service provides the opportunity for local young people, who do not fit traditional training programs, to gain a Certificate II in Hospitality. Staff also help trainees with life skills training. “We are a little bit different,” Darryl says, “but it works.

“About 80 per cent of our clients leave to go on to bigger and better things.

“One girl came back last week and she has just finished her fourth year of her apprenticeship and is going to work in England. That’s phenomenal.”

For recent graduate Alex, who was disengaged from school and life, Café Horizons not only prepared him for employment, but also offered much needed personal and emotional support.

“School really wasn’t for me, I didn’t get along with many people and teachers and my father was very ill,” says Alex.

“So I had a lot of troubles emotionally.” He connected with Darryl, especially after his father’s death just before the course started, who he says really pushed and motivated him to finish the program.

Alex found a job almost immediately after finishing the course and has big plans for the future.

Darryl says that despite personal tragedy, Alex showed “such resolve and strength” to finish training and find a job.

“I get a bit choked up when I talk about Alex,” he says. “That’s pride.”

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