Meet Jen Shaw, the woman behind Emerge
Meet Jen Shaw, the founder of Emerge Toowoomba
“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.”