How do you like your coffee? Or are you more of a hot tea drinker? Maybe good old orange juice is more your style. Soon, staff at Cunningham Children’s Home will have these options and more because thanks to a grant from the Arby’s Foundation,* a "beverage bar" is coming to campus.
Cunningham provides hope and healing to more than 750 youth, adults and families each year but another important aspect of our care and services is transforming lives by helping individuals reach their potential. Our Vocational Options Program (Options) does just that. Options helps youth and young adults with emotional, behavioral or mental health challenges, become self-sufficient through training, support and real-world experiences. Services are developed around an individual’s understanding of their strengths and skill set. Youth and young people explore their interests through career exploration assessments and are given opportunities to grow in their educational and vocational skills through workplace experiences with business partners throughout Champaign County.
"We’re still going to do our traditional vocational program," Deb Lewis, Cunningham’s Vocational Options Program Coordinator, said, "but what we have realized is while we’re really good at teaching soft skills and how to be a good employee, we are missing other vocational skills important in today’s world, like entrepreneurship, business thinking and the accounting piece. We don’t want to be a program that is only teaching kids to move the cog; we want to provide them with the skills and confidence to implement their dreams and ideas and to be successful doing so."
With COVID-19 and the decline in available work sites, opening the beverage bar will provide a workplace experience but will also be a great way to expand our vocational education to include small business strategies, entrepreneurship, financial literacy, marketing and real-world customer service skills in a consistent setting. The skills our youth will learn, like planning, managing and running the beverage bar, will easily transfer to employment in a variety of industries.
"So even if our young people decide being a small business owner is not for them, the skills they learn through entrepreneurship classes can apply in other businesses and other vocational settings and really help them get ahead in the world," Deb said. "The skills are so applicable in lots of different ways."
The pandemic has slowed down progress in the development of the program, especially with students not physically in the classroom, but Deb and her team are hopeful to have things up and running in the fall. The grant will cover much of the start-up expenses like equipment, uniforms and product inventory.
"We really want the kids to be fully involved from the very start," Deb said. "We’re going to be in the weeds together and learning the different pieces that go into successfully building a business and delivering a service. The hope is that within two years we will get to a place where we can sustain ourselves. It is a model that can work but will take time to build and we’re just excited to get to work."
If you, or someone you know, is interested in providing financial support for the beverage bar, please contact Brooke Buzard, Associate Director of Advancement, at (217) 337-9073 or email@example.com. Learn more about Cunningham's Vocational Options Program HERE.
*The Arby’s Foundation, the independent charitable arm of Arby’s, helps America’s kids dream big and pursue their dreams with confidence. Building on a philanthropic heritage that has contributed more than $90 million to youth-related causes since its inception in 1986, the Arby’s Foundation is committed to helping kids build, expand and pursue their dreams as we focus our efforts on childhood hunger, youth leadership and career readiness initiatives. The Arby’s Foundation is a division of the Inspire Brands Foundation, which is a registered 501(c)(3). For more information, visit https://foundation.arbys.com/