Eating lunch at the Hudson River Housing Coffee House, Kitchen, & Cafe is about more than getting a great meal—you could be changing a life. Housed in Poughkeepsie's Underwear Factory, an inclusive community hub for food, art, and housing, the eatery is one of a number of new employment training initiatives launched by Hudson River Housing. In partnership with Earth, Wind, and Fuego—a social enterprise radicalizing hiring, training, and workplace culture to create sustainable solutions to poverty—the cafe trains economically disadvantaged individuals (some who were formerly homeless) in hands-on culinary skills, as well as in building self-confidence and providing customer service tools.
"The region's hospitality industry is exploding," says Elizabeth Celaya, Hudson River Housing's director of strategic initiatives. "We are connecting people who may not have traditional avenues to skilled work to a growing sector of the of the regional economy."
Hudson River Housing has worked to eradicate homelessness and provide support services in the region since 1982, and its newest programs are an outgrowth of that work. "We've had a commitment to hire our own clients for many years," says Celaya. "Employment training is an important part of breaking the cycle of poverty and homelessness."
Two other workforce development initiatives Hudson River Housing is building upon after pilot rollouts in 2018 are Upcycle and the Teen Business Lab. Upcycle works with formerly homeless individuals who train and receive mentorship from artists to design, create, and market for retail products using reclaimed building materials. Teen Business Lab focuses on bringing food-based products to market through mentorships with food entrepreneurs and Culinary Institute of America students, putting workshop-learned skills into practice in the Underwear Factory's commercial kitchen.
"We have this amazing resource in the Underwear Factory," says Celaya. "We want to leverage it to change people's lives."