Over the next five years, 150 to 200 unemployed Sault residents in need of a fresh start will take part in a new social enterprise program designed to provide them with life skills, hands-on manufacturing experience and a chance to explore future employment or education options.
And they’ll get it by making chocolate.
Sault MP Terry Sheehan announced $589,500 in FedNor funding for the Centre for Social Justice and Good Works Project Entrepreneurship program at the centre's office Wednesday.
The program will consist of 12 months of training for program participants, 10 at a time, over the next five years, consisting of classroom training at the centre, job placements in the community, and hands-on manufacturing training at the soon-to-open Sweet Change Chocolate Company at 3 Queen Street East.
“How sweet is that?” Sheehan quipped in the centre’s boardroom.
“This particular program fits perfectly with everything this government is trying to do for communities. I’ve got to applaud the Centre for Social Justice and Good Works for putting forward this proposal which we’re able to support,” Sheehan said.
Sweet Change Chocolate will officially open May 8 with a showcase of chocolate, tickets currently being printed up for a chocolate, wine and cheese tasting event that evening.
Sheehan said it is anticipated two full-time jobs will be created in support of the program's in-class training, three part-time jobs at the chocolate factory itself and 30 sales and service jobs generated in the community through placements.
“There are five months of in-class training, three months of hands-on training in the actual chocolate manufacturing and wholesale company, and then there’s a four-month paid employment placement with our partners in the Sault,” explained Christina Coutu, Centre for Social Justice and Good Works executive director, speaking to SooToday.
Coutu said there will be three intakes of 10 people a year for the program, in-class training taking place at the centre’s Herrick Street office (possibly four or five intakes, eventually).
“We’ll go through business techniques, life skills, goal setting, and then they’ll do their first placement of four weeks either in retail or actually manufacturing and wholesaling at the chocolate company, involving packaging and filling orders, then they come back to the classroom for a month, then they’ll be prepared for their four-month employment placement with the goal of that turning into permanent employment, going back to school or starting their own business,” Coutu said.
The first intake of 10 participants started in early February.
“We have really high attendance and it’s going really well,” Coutu said, the participants being Ontario Works or ODSP clients, and an under-employed person looking to start a business.
“If someone wants to start a business we’re going to make sure they have a workable business plan to take to the CDC or EDC to start their own business.”
Work placements, Coutu said, will take place at retail outlets (a local florist, for example, is already on board), what she described as “a tourist organization” and some not-for-profit organizations.
Equipment for the chocolate factory, purchased by yet-to-be-announced supporters, is coming from the U.S. and overseas, the location itself being renovated to be ready for business.
“Within the next couple of weeks we’ll be manufacturing in there, and then probably in the next four to six weeks we’ll be doing full production, manufacturing and filling wholesale orders,” Coutu said.
The FedNor funding announced by Sheehan, Coutu said, goes toward the hiring of people to help with classroom training.
While the Project Entrepreneurship program is slated to last for five years, Coutu said “our goal, and we’re really aggressive with it, is within three years for the chocolate factory to be creating enough profit to support both the Centre for Social Justice and Good Works and the chocolate company to be sustainable.”
“(This program) is good for people who are at a fork in the road, wondering what to do,” said John Febbraro, Centre for Social Justice and Good Works board president.