GRAND JUNCTION, Colo.â€” It's hard enough to find a job with little or no experience and a local unemployment rate above 8 percent.
Add being on the run from a dysfunctional home life, a lack of transportation, not having the money to buy a proper work uniform and having no place to store it anyway as you couch surf, and it becomes nearly impossible to get or keep employment.
It's a dilemma an estimated 100 Western Slope teens face daily. They want to live independently but need a job to pay for it. Meanwhile, their lack of a home or money and possibly other issues, such as mental health diagnoses or substance abuse problems, keep them from building a work history.
John Mok-Lamme, who runs Karis, Inc., the nonprofit that oversees local teen homeless shelter The House, hopes he's found a viable solution for the teens who are living at or have lived at The House. The House paid for furniture, food and remodeling at Cafe V. In return, Cafe V Owner Alex Mackey agreed to employ current and former residents of the teen shelter.
Cafe V, which gets its name from being a coffee shop that sells vegetarian cuisine, opened Feb. 4 and hosted a grand opening Feb. 15.
One of the cafe's employees is 18-year-old Cierra Sutton. She lived at The House from November through this month but recently moved in with her boyfriend and his mother.
Sutton said she's had other jobs at City Market and working with a Santa at Mesa Mall. But finding those jobs wasn't easy.
"It's hard to find a job, especially when you're a teen because they want someone with experience," Sutton said. "Transportation is hard, too. I'm trying to save for a car."
Sutton works 25 hours per week at Cafe V. She said she likes working there because she can "be productive" five days a week while continuing to get therapy through The House from Colorado West Mental Health and working on her General Educational Development diploma.
"The managers are awesome. They tell us they appreciate us being here," Sutton said.
Mackey can hire and fire whoever he wants, but he has to guarantee at least 100 hours of work each week for current or former residents of The House. So far, he has exceeded that requirement by hiring or providing internship opportunities for five young adults who went through The House, plus one young adult who is economically disadvantaged.
Half of those workers are participating in a 240-hour internship program sponsored by the Workforce Investment Act. Workforce Investment Act Youth Program Supervisor Lori Wacker said the investment act pays wages and insurance for interns in the program. Interns must be 16 to 21 years old and have a hardship such as being homeless, having a criminal record or being pregnant or a young parent to participate.
While employers are trusted to help interns fine-tune their workplace skills, Wacker helps with the little obstacles that could make getting to work difficult, including bus tickets and gas money.
"To work here (at Cafe V), they needed black, shiny shoes and black dress pants. A lot of them didn't have those, so WIA bought them. How are they going to work if they can't buy the uniform?" she said.