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For Change Co: Humble brew, humble crew, not so humble plans

Coffee. Liquid Gold. It’s a humble brew that does so much in helping us function on the daily. But, when ordered from one of For Change Co.’s social enterprise locations, it’s so much more than a caffeine hit – it’s an opportunity for a better life for young people.

For Change Co. supports young people experiencing, and at risk of experiencing, homelessness to access employment, training, housing, community and confidence through their five hospitality-based social enterprises. Every young person they support goes through their home.plate training program, which runs for roughly six months and equips their young people with hospitality and general employability skills. This, along with the confidence and community their young people gain, supports their transition out of the homelessness cycle. To date, 100% of graduates from home.plate have successfully transitioned into further employment or education and remain out of the homelessness cycle. 

So, why is For Change Co.’s work wildly important right now? Because every night in Australia, 28,000 young people are experiencing homelessness. Let. That. Sink. In. These are the shocking numbers For Change Co. are actively working to change. 

Recently, Co-Founders Levi Fernandez and Tenille Gilbert received an exciting proposal, albeit a huge challenge. Not content with resting on their laurels (and by that we mean successfully running several hospitality social enterprises that make some of the best coffee in the city AND continue to make a true difference to the lives of Melbourne’s youth), these incredibly ambitious Co-Founders jumped at the chance to increase their impact with a new venture that would involve launching an $80k crowdfunding campaign and embarking on yet another unique cafe build.

The result? For Change Co. and its community managed to raise an astounding $100k in a matter of days, which means they’ll be opening a new social enterprise in Middle Park, on Boon Wurrung Country. And in true Melbourne style, it’s located in a heritage-listed tram stop. 

TOWNHALL caught up with Co-Founder Levi Fernandez to chat about the impressive display of what can happen when a community comes together, and exactly what that means for the fight against youth homelessness.

TH: The new venue at Middle Park sounds like it’s going to be epic – how did it come about?

LF: We’re so excited about it! We were approached by Yarra Trams who were keen to have a social enterprise take over the space and fortunately they liked our ideas! It’s an old, heritage listed tram stop, so it’s got unbelievable character and soul. We feel like it’s going to be a beautiful cafe that creates a measurable and sustainable difference in the lives of the young people we work with. It’s also really inspiring that Yarra Trams and the Department of Transport are doing this. There aren’t too many other places around the world where you’ll find an intersection of government, corporate and social enterprise collaborating in this way. 

TH: You raised more than your initial goal in a matter of days – what do you attribute the success of the campaign to?

LF: Our community! We can trace all of our big and little wins straight back to our incredible volunteers, partners, staff and the young people we work with. This crowdfunder is no different. We have been blown away by the support and love we have received from our community and we are incredibly grateful. I’d be lying if I said that we anticipated the magnitude of the response we have received; but I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised as our community has been whole-heartedly backing us since we started operations six years ago! 

TH: Beyond the goal (or should we say stretch goal) what will these funds mean for For Change Co.?

LF: The funds we’ve raised through this crowdfunder will allow us to launch a social enterprise cafe that supports young people at risk of, or experiencing, homelessness. This includes purchasing the equipment, furnishings, construction materials and all the other bits and bobs that make a cafe, a cafe! Any funds donated beyond our target will be used to support the young people within our impact program. 

TH: Since its launch, For Change Co. has grown exponentially – what do you put this down to?

LF: I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m repeating myself but…it’s our community! Whether it was the small army of volunteers who got us off the ground, our incredible partners that took a gamble on us in the early days or our dedicated family of staff, we are forever grateful for their support. Ultimately, however, For Change Co. is constantly inspired by the strength, resilience and character of the young people we exist to support. The number of young people experiencing homelessness is growing and this is a powerful motivator to increase our capacity to ensure we’re there for them. I also need to mention our secret weapon, Tenille, my Co-Founder and For Change Co.’s Managing Director. Tenille has been instrumental in the development of For Change Co.’s impact and social enterprise models. Tenille’s hard work, kindness and leadership have kept our ship moving in the right direction. 

TH: What’s the vision for For Change Co.? What’s next?

LF: Our generation will be the first in modern history to have a lower quality of life than those before us, and the number of young people experiencing homelessness is on the rise. We need to increase our capacity to support as many young people as possible. We plan to do this by launching more social enterprise ventures and developing new partnerships with philanthropists, corporates, community organisations and the government. The former will increase the physical space we have to welcome more young people into our program whilst simultaneously generating greater revenue for our impact model. The latter will allow us to grow our team, take calculated risks and innovate. 

TH: What’s your advice for other aspiring changemakers across Australia, who are starting their social enterprise/social impact journey?

LF: Make sure that your impact model is informed by the people you exist to serve. I feel like this is one of the few things we got right from the start, we always made sure that people with lived experience of homelessness were shaping our impact model. 

Surround yourself with people that challenge you, make you laugh and keep your head above water during the tough moments. I feel unbelievably lucky to have co-founded For Change Co. with my best friend, Tenille, and to count so many of our staff, volunteers and partners as my friends. 

TH: How can people get involved with For Change Co? How can people reach out if they want to support/donate?

LF: You can donate here

If you’d like to partner on a social enterprise project please contact levi@forchangeco.com.au

If you’d like to volunteer your time or support our mission in any other way please contact levi@forchangeco.com.au

TH: What about if people want to receive For Change Co.’s help/support/services?

LF: If you’re a young person in need of support please contact Launch Housing via their website.

If you’d like to learn more about what we do visit our website or contact Levi at levi@forchangeco.com.au

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