Real-life job skills. The joy of cooking. Friendship and camaraderie.
References on a résumé. Hope for a more stable life.
Such is the bounty that comes to mothers working at Plates Café and Catering, a program of the St. John's Shelter Program for Women and Children.
The training program prepares mothers who were homeless for careers in the restaurant and hospitality sectors. So far, the 2-year-old program has trained 38 women, with 89 percent placed in jobs. Twenty-eight more are in training.
Among them is Sylvia Guajardo, 47. The single mother had been living a routine suburban life, working a clerical job and raising five children. A combination of personal drug addiction and domestic violence brought a downward spiral that caused her to lose her job, car and place to live.
St. John's Shelter and the Plates program have been a lifeline.
Plates Café, at Depot Park in south Sacramento, is a restaurant that serves weekday lunches and offers catering services. The trainees learn all aspects of food service and hospitality from food safety to menu planning to serving.
The income from Plates goes toward St. John's Shelter programs. Plates trainees live at the shelter or in subsidized housing, and receive services such as child care and transportation.
"So many of them, when they come here, are broken," said Joy Reinhardt, Plates Café business manager. "They've been told, 'You're not worthy, you're not smart' everything you should never tell a human being.
"There are so many lessons with hospitality, and anyone who's worked in hospitality can work anywhere," Reinhardt added, noting that the program teaches communication skills, teamwork, developing résumés and job interviewing. "Any woman who enters this program broken can leave brand new," she said.
Guajardo agreed. Now on track to reclaim her life, she has completed 500 of the required 600 hours of training and hopes to find a paying job soon.
"This program has made me so strong," she said. "I can face anything now."
Plates requires all-black uniforms for trainees. Often, the mothers turn to the shelter's warehouse for donated clothing. The resulting outfits are a hodgepodge.
"When I started here, I didn't have anything black," said Guadalupe Solis, 24, who became homeless and lost custody of her two sons before landing at St. John's Shelter last summer. The only black shirts she could find at the warehouse have short sleeves that expose tattoos she wishes she could cover.
Reinhardt is asking Book of Dreams readers to provide Plates trainees with all-black uniforms that include long-sleeved shirts with collars, slacks and comfortable non-slip shoes.
The uniforms would symbolize unity among the mothers and provide a boost to their pride in a program designed to lift them from despair to hope.
NEEDED: Full uniforms for workers at Plates Café.