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USF program cooking up job skills in Hughson
United Samaritans Foundation's new restaurant and training program, 3rd Street Cafe, operating out of its location at 2413 Third Street in Hughson, puts a tasty twist on giving back to the community.

The program gives young adults, ages 17 through 21, marketable job skills for the future. Currently, the program recruits students through Ceres Unified School District's Project Yes and Stanislaus County's Alliance Work Net Career Quest Youth Program.

Soon 3rd Street Cafe will be in talks with Hughson High School in hopes of expanding its workforce. This cafe formerly housed the Daily Bread Cafe Restaurant training program of Sierra Vista before USF assumed control. Under USF, the cafe was renamed and given a new look.

The 3rd Street Cafe celebrated its grand opening Aug. 16 with a picnic in the street. Over 300 local residents attended to enjoy barbecue sandwiches and hot dogs, samples from the cafe's menu, free ice cream cones and soda, face painting and live music.

The cafe itself runs with a lot of community support. Since the program is nonprofit, the restaurant needs to support itself. All proceeds of the cafe fund the restaurant and training program.

"Customers are spending money in support of something. Our board took over the program because it felt that it was starting to show promise and liked the idea of giving the youth job skills. We want to keep it open and get the training program up and going. Until we have a certain number of students, we can't apply for a grant," said Barbara Bawanan, USF director.

Along with learning how to work, students receive a stipend through the organization which paired them with employment.

"The goal is to have the cafe for people to enjoy," Bawanan said. "The purpose is to provide job skills. We need customers for the cafe to sustain itself. I would like to see it busier. I would like to see packed full with customers and half a dozen students in different stages of their training."

"Me too," said Roger Collett, Third Street Cafe's manager and part-time chef. He became interested in the program while managing restaurants for Pizza Hut.

"I really like the thought of the training program for the kids. It keeps them focused, out of trouble and they gain job skills. We train them in this setting because restaurants also need help. There are lots of restaurant potentials for job opportunities and USF is already in the feeding program," Collett said.

He is not new to restaurant and training programs for the youth. In the mid-nineties, he helped found Phoenix Academy Program in Los Angeles, a live-in culinary program for troubled youth affected by drugs, alcohol and family problems. It is still in operation.

"I know with programs like these, a young person benefits. This is why I think 3rd Street Cafe is great, wonderful, one of the main reasons why I took the position. The youth helps out the community in the long run. If you help one person, you've done a great job," Collett said.

The Third Street Cafe currently employs one student. They are welcoming applicants but find that many of the youth are hindered by a lack of transportation. However, for those who are able to work, Collett says that their experience will be enriching. Of the program's current student, he said, "She started with no restaurant experience at all and is now doing very well. She is a hard worker, enjoys working here and the customers like her. I am about to get her started waiting tables then she will work in the back, preparing food."

The Third Street Cafe is open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week. The breakfast menu includes fresh biscuits and gravy and a breakfast burrito. The lunch menu includes grilled chicken sandwiches with fries, potato salad and sugar free cheesecake. Hours are 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The cafe is also available for private dinner parties in the late afternoon and in the evening.

For more information about 3rd Street Cafe, call Collett at 883-4941.