Ray Davis, owner of Flight American Fusion restaurant, is a YAP Supported Work partner. Supported Work is a component of many YAP programs that is designed to help youth not only gain work experience, but also to learn the soft skills necessary to succeed in a work environment.
Davis was recognized recently at an event in Baltimore for his partnership and support of YAP youth and kids through Supported Work. "I usually start the youth in the kitchen doing dishes," he shared, noting that working at his restaurant is usually a first step into employment for most of the youth. "As they get comfortable with the routine and show interest, they may move to help food prep, work the line or even help in the front of the house in hosting or serving tables."
The program's success is heavily reliant upon identifying businesses in the local community that are willing to provide youth with the opportunity to gain work experience. To entice businesses to give youth a chance, the timeframes are short- typically 3-4 months- and YAP agrees to subsidize the youth's pay during that time while also providing coaching and support. Often, youth are officially hired upon conclusion of the agreement; but even when they are not, Supported Work partners have often become more than employers to their youth- they have become mentors who are invested in the lives of their young people.
Davis teaches his young people the basics of running a restaurant, and has learned not to make assumptions about what they know. "I asked one of the kids to bring me a zucchini from the refrigerator, and he came back with a cucumber. That's when I realized that he probably had never seen a zucchini before." Little exchanges like this occur frequently, and Davis is both patient and eager to see the kids learn and grow.
For example, exposing his youth to new foods has become a core part of his training with them. "I make them try everything on the menu," he shared. He tells the youth that being able to describe and understand what elements go into each dish is an important part of working in the restaurant industry. "They weren't that excited about trying the lamb," he added, chuckling softly.
Often, through Davis' mentoring and training, the youth are learning more than job skills. Davis shared a story about one of his kids asking if he could pay for a bottle of laundry detergent in the kitchen to wash his clothes. Davis said sure. Then the next day, the same kid asked if he could buy another one. Davis paused and questioned him, "What did you do with the one you took home yesterday?" to which the youth replied, "I used it to wash a load of clothes." It was at that moment that Davis realized that the youth had used an entire container of detergent to wash one load of clothes.
Thanks to Davis, just one of the incredible like-minded Supported Work employers throughout YAP, that young man went home not only with a new bottle of detergent, but also armed with the a basic life skill that extended beyond his work experience. "It is important to me to help the youth in my community."