Meet Jen Shaw, the wo­man be­hind Emerge

Meet Jen Shaw, the founder of Emerge Toowoomba

Style Magazine - - Contents - BY CLARE STANDFAST

“If you drive into the CBD on a Thurs­day or Fri­day night you can catch a glimpse of how many young peo­ple like to hang out down­town with their friends — many of those kids are dis­en­gaged from school and their fam­ily and par­tic­i­pat­ing in dan­ger­ous and anti-so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties,” founder of Emerge Jen Shaw says.

“Emerge is a so­cial im­pact or­gan­i­sa­tion that aims to en­gage, en­cour­age and em­power youth in the Toowoomba re­gion within a food van, train­ing and men­tor­ship pro­grams and a ded­i­cated youth hub.”

The youth hub sits cosily be­tween Pro­duce Ln and Sta­tion St, across the road from Grand Cen­tral, right in the Toowoomba CBD.

Jen Shaw be­lieves that it takes a vil­lage to raise a child. While her back­ground is in hos­pi­tal­ity, she has pub­lished three cook­books with her busi­ness, Bare­foot Kitchens, and has spent the past seven years writ­ing on­line, host­ing work­shops, cook­ing demon­stra­tions and men­tor­ing fam­i­lies on eat­ing health­ier on a bud­get, all the while de­vel­op­ing the con­cept of Emerge.

Jen is also a lov­ing mother to seven beau­ti­ful chil­dren.

“I’ve had the vi­sion to cre­ate a space for youth in Toowoomba for over 15 years. I grew up in Toowoomba and spent much of my youth on the streets, out of school and dis­en­gaged from my fam­ily. It was thanks to out-of-the-box ideas and men­tor­ship from down-to-earth peo­ple that played a big part in help­ing me so I wanted to cre­ate a plat­form for that to oc­cur for other kids in our com­mu­nity.”

Jen has set up Emerge as a plat­form to re-en­gage kids into more pos­i­tive

‘‘ At Emerge we un­der­stand that ev­ery­one has a story and we can meet youth ex­actly where they are at in life to help them de­velop pos­i­tive life skills, work ex­pe­ri­ence and job con­fi­dence in a plat­form that is pur­pose-built for them to do so. JEN SHAW, FOUNDER OF EMERGE

ac­tiv­i­ties with men­tors who can guide them through chal­lenges, par­tic­u­larly if they don’t have that sup­port in other ar­eas.

“It’s our vi­sion that many of these kids and oth­ers in our com­mu­nity can par­tic­i­pate in work ex­pe­ri­ence and fur­ther train­ing in the Emerge pro­gram and food van and start to make bet­ter choices on their own terms. At Emerge we un­der­stand that ev­ery­one has a story and we can meet youth ex­actly where they are at in life to help them de­velop pos­i­tive life skills, work ex­pe­ri­ence and job con­fi­dence in a plat­form that is pur­pose-built for them to do so. There are many amaz­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions work­ing with kids in our com­mu­nity but we fill a gap and an­swer a real need for some­thing that fo­cuses on job readi­ness where there are bar­ri­ers,” Jen says.

The Emerge Youth Hub was cre­ated to es­tab­lish a safe, su­per­vised and judge­ment-free zone for young peo­ple in the Toowoomba re­gion.

In the hub, youth can ac­cess fo­cused events and ac­tiv­i­ties, safe drop-in times, cri­sis food, cloth­ing and hy­giene items, and, as Jen says, “just (be) some­where that feels a bit like home for youth who don’t have any­where to call that.”

While the idea for Emerge has been grow­ing for 15 years, it came into im­pact two years ago with a group of like-minded peo­ple. From there, they have suc­cess­fully raised $33,000 in­de­pen­dently, have put a down pay­ment on a mo­bile cater­ing and food van, de­vel­oped a strong board, be­come an in­cor­po­rated as­so­ci­a­tion and have opened the doors to Toowoomba’s first ded­i­cated youth space.

Orig­i­nally the con­cept for Emerge was de­vel­oped around a cafe model, but af­ter much re­search, the team could see that this vi­sion had a large risk of fail­ure from a so­cial im­pact per­spec­tive. Thank­fully, they started again, and cre­ated what is known to­day as the Emerge Youth Hub.

“We have been build­ing a team for Emerge with a wide va­ri­ety in skills and pro­fes­sional back­grounds, ob­vi­ously given the hos­pi­tal­ity el­e­ment we have a lot of chefs and food­ies in­volved in­clud­ing Sherry Mc­dow­ell and Tash Zier­bath, both of whom are amaz­ing chefs with a love of both serv­ing up whole­some healthy foods and help­ing youth in the com­mu­nity. We have a strong ad­vi­sory board of pro­fes­sion­als in busi­ness, com­mu­nity ser­vices and cor­po­rate gov­er­nance and an amaz­ing team of men­tors in health, fit­ness and emo­tional well­be­ing. I be­lieve it takes a strong vil­lage to bring a project like this to life and I am so grate­ful for ev­ery­one who has al­ready come on board with us,” Jen adds.

Ideally, Emerge would like to part­ner with busi­nesses, or­gan­i­sa­tions and in­di­vid­u­als who share their ethos and pas­sion for de­liv­er­ing a project like this in the Toowoomba re­gion to en­sure the sur­vival of the hub, both in the short and long term.

“We are en­gag­ing with more and more kids ev­ery week through our pro­grams and the drop-in space and have some re­ally big plans for the fu­ture both as a so­cial im­pact busi­ness and a com­mu­nity or­gan­i­sa­tion. I of­ten pinch my­self that this project has be­come a re­al­ity when it started in sketch books and whis­pers to friends and fam­ily many years ago,” Jen shares. “When I named Emerge, it came from a quote that I loved, ‘I strug­gle but I emerge’. At Emerge we want young peo­ple to know that no mat­ter the strug­gle, they can emerge. You just have to keep mov­ing for­ward and never give up.”

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