Catholic Charities of Oregon is committed to improving the livelihood of individuals, families, and communities affected by intellectual developmental disabilities (IDD) and other unique barriers to employment.
Oregon agencies that provide services to people with disabilities are placing new emphasis on supported employment (i.e. employment in an integrated setting). Oregon now is an Employment First state, and the Oregon Department of Human Services and other agencies are encouraging grassroots efforts to expand employment opportunities. The State of Oregon developed an integrated employment plan in 2013 and revised it in 2015 for individuals with IDD. Despite that progress, more than 61% of individuals with disabilities in Oregon remain unemployed. On a national scale, persons with disabilities face poverty rates nearly three times as high as their non-disabled peers and are subsequently more likely to experience severe hardships (i.e. food insecurity, insufficient access to health care, inability to pay for basic living expenses, etc.). To achieve better results, Catholic Charities of Oregon is committed to developing meaningful, sustainable employment opportunities for persons with disabilities living in our communities.
Other unique barriers to employment include experiencing homelessness, battling addiction, transitioning from incarceration, and domestic violence. Those barriers can lead to a myriad of difficulties for individuals, especially a lack of employment. For example, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, formerly incarcerated individuals are unemployed at a rate of over 27%—higher than the total U.S. unemployment rate during any historical period, including the Great Depression. However, individuals experiencing those types of unique barriers need stable jobs for the same reasons as everyone else: to support themselves and their loved ones, pursue life goals, and strengthen their communities. For an individual battling addiction, employment can be a critical key to recovery and long-term sober living. For an individual who is a survivor of domestic violence, employment can be the difference between continuing to live with an abuser and having the financial independence to separate.
No one wants to be defined by their lowest moments. At Catholic Charities of Oregon, we see everyone as human beings worthy of love, respect, and belonging. Our goal is to to empower people who have struggled and help them rebuild their confidence and recognize their inherent self-worth by giving those individuals an opportunity to gain necessary skills to become employable.
Germaine’s Kitchen and Café is at the heart of Catholic Charities of Oregon’s Food Response Network. Germaine’s prepares and distributes hot meals for our unhoused neighbors in Southeast Portland. Hot Meals for Unhoused Neighbors is an initiative at St. Francis Dining Hall, along with other distribution sites and sanctioned camps, that focuses on food preparation and distribution efforts to feed those who are experiencing homelessness and/or food insecurity. As part of this initiative, Catholic Charities of Oregon is providing approximately 1,000 meals a week for unhoused neighbors in Southeast Portland.
Germaine’s also provides a gluten-free, culinary workforce development program geared towards those in our community with their own unique barriers to employment, from adults experiencing IDD to those coming through rehabilitation, addiction, and other life changing experiences.
The training program delivers a variety of essential skills helping our students on a path to success in a professional kitchen or foodservice operation. Our program offers in-class instruction on the fundamentals and foundations of cooking along with the very important job/life skills and hands-on learning in just 16 weeks. The focus is on entry-level training designed to deliver students the basic understanding and competencies of cooking and/or baking and life skills. We are building job readiness, the sensory awareness and teamwork needed to work with confidence and professionalism in a commercial kitchen or a related food service field. With small class sizes, we offer focused, individualized attention from professional chef/instructors and faculty.
As part of Germaine’s Kitchen and Café, Catholic Charities of Oregon intends to launch the public grand opening of its café in 2021, hiring and training a staff of adults experiencing IDD and other unique barriers to employment while providing a one-of-a-kind customer service experience that will change the way communities view those who experience these unique barriers. We aim to develop an integrated consumer-led social business enterprise using Catholic Charities of Oregon’s existing (currently unused) commercial kitchen space to offer integrated, stable, and professional training and eventual employment placement. It is our intention that Germaine’s Café will launch into its own independent social enterprise as a separate 501(c)(3) organization while remaining a member/affiliate of Catholic Charities of Oregon.
Individuals with developmental disabilities have the right to work in integrated settings with non-disabled colleagues. Individuals experiencing unique barriers to employment need to be afforded a second chance, including the same wages and being allowed to contribute to society in a meaningful way. Our café will provide individuals with disabilities and those in our community with their own unique barriers to employment the opportunities for personal growth, as well as a source of income, social interaction, and a sense of purpose. Moreover, it is our intention that these individuals will play an active and key role in the leadership of the café’s enterprise.
At the core of this project, Catholic Charities of Oregon aims to change the way people see others, respect others, value others, accept others, and include others. Brewing up more than just delicious drinks, our project is a human rights crusade disguised as a café. Germaine’s Kitchen and Café will be a place where diversity is not just appreciated—it is celebrated.
Saint Germaine Cousin, a French shepherdess, is the patron saint of those experiencing disabilities.
Help us bring dignity, justice, and opportunity to Oregonians living with IDDs and other barriers to employment.