Driving up Bedford Avenue in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, one might be surprised to come upon St. Joseph House of Hospitality. With its tranquil view of the downtown skyline, green space and gardens, St. Joe’s, as many call it, is an unlikely sanctuary amid the hustle and bustle of the city below. Operated by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, St. Joe’s has been providing housing and other services to homeless men age 50 and older for over 80 years.
Last year, Catholic Charities and Auberle’s Employment Institute began discussing ways to partner on different projects. With its various certification programs and youth-run businesses, such as Catering, the Employment Institute found itself in a unique position to help St. Joe’s.
“We want to use this as an employment opportunity for the youth that we serve in the community and potentially some of the clients that live here.”
- Craig Seifried, Auberle's Administrator of Dietary & Housekeeping
According to Employment Institute Director Rodney Prystash, the partnership is a win-win for both organizations. By taking on St. Joe’s dietary and food services, the Employment Institute creates culinary opportunities for youth experiencing barriers to employment, and also provides St. Joe’s residents with healthier food options, training and employment opportunities.
Auberle launched the new program in late April. The food services team provides residents with three meals a day, seven days a week. Craig Seifried, Auberle’s Administrator of Dietary and Housekeeping, oversees operations and has high hopes for the partnership.
“We want to use this as an employment opportunity for the youth that we serve and in the community and potentially some of the clients that live here,” Craig said. “So the youth that come through, we want to help them get a job by giving them the needed skill set and helping them get an applicable certification, develop work ethic, earn a digital work ethic badge, obtain hands-on job training and work experience, and build an attractive resume that can be presented to potential employers. The interested residents at St. Joe’s will have the same opportunities available to them through the Employment Institute. We want to help them get to the next level where they want to be in their life. Some men want to save money to get an apartment and live on their own. Those are the opportunities we want to create here.”
St. Joe’s houses up to 60 residents at a time. According to Craig, approximately 60% of current residents are military veterans. Two residents are currently employed in the food service program through the Employment Institute. There are seven other staff members working with Craig on the food service team, all of whom are youth.
“I think the fact that there are young people here adds a good mix to the older crowd,” Craig said. “It helps invigorate them. It’s a positive interaction between an older generation and a younger generation."
The majority of the youth, ages 15-23, are employed through the Employment Institute’s Learn & Earn program and AmeriCorps. Some of the youth learned of the opportunity through their Youth Coaches at Auberle’s 412 Youth Zone in downtown Pittsburgh. For many, it’s their first opportunity to cook in a commercial kitchen.
“We learned how to crack eggs properly and how to season things,” one of the youth said. “You learn the times and temperatures.”
In addition to learning the basic rules of cooking, the youth are also gaining important soft skills.
“They’re learning to follow directions, work flow, being on time, proper work interaction, phone etiquette, customer service,” Craig said. “We’re here to serve the residents. We all have to have positive interactions with the residents.”
The young employees seem to appreciate the importance of these relationships.
“I like the interactions with the residents,” one of the youth said. “They talk about some of their experiences in the war or personal experiences. It’s always good to have a good laugh from the residents.”
“They give us good advice,” another added.
Resident Phil M., who has lived at St. Joe’s for two years, appreciates the camaraderie too.
“The younger staff, they interact with us,” he said. “It’s very nice. We kid around. If you need something, they don’t look at us differently like ‘Oh, you’re an old homeless guy’. They take care of you. They go out of their way here. This kitchen crew is really good.”
For the youth, some of whom have experienced homelessness themselves, the job at St. Joe’s is a welcome change.
“It’s a different environment from other places I’ve worked,” one said. “This environment is good. It’s calm, cool and collected. This is a great experience to have for your first job.”
One of the team’s main goals is to create an open, inviting environment in the kitchen and dining area so that residents can experience a sense of community and access food and beverages during all hours of operation. Another goal is to provide the residents with healthy food options. One way the team is doing this is through gardening. The youth and residents have learned to tend the garden and have even started composting. The produce they grow is then used in the daily salad bar.
Visiting St. Joe’s, one can’t help but feel a sense of calm. It’s easy to see how the place could have a transformative effect. Resident Phil has experienced it first-hand. Before arriving at St. Joe’s, Phil lived on the streets for a year. He calls his time at St. Joe’s an enlightening experience.
“When I first came here, I couldn’t make it up Bedford Avenue,” he said. “I stopped about five times to rest. I was completely burned out. Now I can walk up Bedford Avenue without stopping.”
Like Phil, so many people have a Bedford Avenue in their lives, a challenge that seems insurmountable. For over 145 years combined, St. Joe’s and Auberle have provided a safe place to individuals facing life’s toughest obstacles. Auberle hopes this partnership will lead to more opportunities to make an even greater impact in the community.
“This whole discussion has grown to a lot more than food service,” Rodney said. “We hope to grow other opportunities with Catholic Charities in the future.”
For more information on the Employment Institute’s programs, contact Abby Wolensky at 412-673-5856 ext. 1317 or AbbyW@auberle.org.