A Cup o' Java Goes A Long Way
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A Cup o’ Java Goes A Long Way

The recession may be officially over for the moment, but it is still unclear what the residual effects will be on the everyday life of Canadians. That’s why for Dr. Mike Wood Daly, executive director of Ground Level Youth Ventures, there was much to celebrate as the Ground Level Café opened its doors to the public this Monday, after delays due in part to the recently ended strike.
“There were a few challenges,” admits Daly.

Established in 1998, the café was sponsored by a church in order to provide bona fide jobs for at-risk youth. Since then, Ground Level Youth Ventures has received charitable status and the café has twice moved before settling on its newest location at 1496 Queen Street West (the corner of Queen Street and MacDonnell Street). Daly is determined to create a new hot spot in Parkdale while changing lives in the process.
“It’s a great space, decorated to [resemble] the early twentieth century, with a restored ceiling and antique furniture. It’s a really appealing design,” he says.
The café boasts not only coffee and a menu but also has used books available for sale, and if you bring the book back, you get a cup on the house. In the fall, Ground Level will partner with Food Share, ensuring all of the produce used at the café will promote local farmers.
The most salient feature of the café, however, is its employees.
Ground Level Café hires youth for four months and teaches them transferable skills in addition to providing them an income. For a troubled youth, it can be the difference from a life in shelters or on the streets. The concept has yielded incredible results: since 1998 seventy-five percent of the eighty participants in the program have gone on to find employment, returned to school, or enrolled in vocational training.
As youth homelessness has become a serious concern in Toronto [PDF], opportunities for jobs that can introduce youth back to the general workforce are vital. Moreover, Daly points out that their participants include homeless youth from affluent communities as well. “It doesn’t take much to bring someone to the streets,” he notes. “All it takes is the loss of a job from a parent in an Oakville home. There are a variety of factors involved.”

Ryan McIlroy (left; also pictured in the topmost photo) and Wayne Rostant (right).

Ryan McIlroy, kitchen manager for the café, was one of those who have benefited from the program. “Ryan came out of the program and now is running the day-to-day operations,” says Daly. “Our hope is that down the road, Ryan will move on to an even bigger establishment and another youth from the program will take his position.”
However, Daly doesn’t want to just create a new herd of Starbucks baristas.
“The kids are very gifted and eclectic. They’ve been resourceful on how they’ve raised revenue in the past. They have skills that are supportive of an entrepreneurial mindset. We can help cultivate and nurture these skills [in order to] utilize them in other settings…you get all of this for a cup of coffee.”
Photos by Nick Kozak/Torontoist.