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Westlock Food Warriors prepares youth, adults for employment

New Youth Unlimited program provides skills and experience
WES - Westlock Food Warriors
Youth Unlimited launched the Westlock Food Warriors program with a taco pop-up night on April 23. The weekly program will help prepare youth and adults to learn and upgrade skills and gain experience for employment. To welcome the new program, Youth Unlimited held a soft launch with a free Easter brunch April 18. Helping with the brunch are back row, L-R: Anthony MacLeod, Lynne Gray, Irene Panting, and David MacLeod. Front row, L-R: Josh Wright, Jaden Wright and Jaxon Wright.

WESTLOCK – A new program is helping prepare youth and adults for potential employment by providing the skills, experience and confidence needed to succeed.   

Youth Unlimited officially launched the Westlock Food Warriors, a micro-business providing a weekly taco pop-up night, that includes an affordable dine in or take out meal on Saturdays from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. The weekly pop-up will run over the next six months as a pilot program, with the first event held April 23.

Organizer Tara MacLeod identified a need to give youth and adults more opportunities to gain experience and train in order to upgrade skills or learn something new, to help them secure employment in the town and across the region.

MacLeod noted how competition for jobs in Westlock can often be tough, especially for youth or older adults looking to re-join the workforce.  

“There’s a lot of them (employers) that will give them a chance but there’s so much competition for those same chances,” said MacLeod. “The hope is that in running a micro-business, as if it’s a fully functioning real business ... we’ve asked our participants for a four out of eight-event commitment so by the end of their four events they will have learned, whether it’s youth, seniors or anyone who’s been out of work for a while.”

Despite operating as a micro-business education and experience purposes, the venture is still a non-profit program run primarily by volunteers, noted MacLeod, adding that participants will learn several aspects of work, including the areas of operations such as cooking and serving, accounting such as cashflow and marketing. The new initiative will also aim to teach about food security and entrepreneurship. 

“It’s meant so that they can literally walk out of here and walk into McDonalds or Apollo (Pizza) or wherever and find the same environment (on the operations side)” she said.  

“They may need to go back to work or upgrade and they need to learn how to work a point-of-sale system.” 

The program will cover safe food handling, minimal waste practices, stretching the value of the dollar in meal prep as well as how to maintain a website and social media for employment purposes.

“This program has to be self-sustaining … the program is as much about providing food security, accessible food, and (developing) a healthy relationship with sustainable foods,” said MacLeod, adding that most of the items, including salsa, hummus, and guacamole will be homemade.  

All funds raised during the weekly taco pop-up event will go directly back into the program, run by Youth Unlimited, a non-profit organization that provides a variety of programs to youth and people of different ages, including faith based programs and others in the Westlock area.   

MacLeod has received positive feedback from youth, seniors and adults interested in participating and wants all participants to feel self-empowered, gain confidence and feel a sense of accomplishment, knowing that hard work and commitment in the workplace often results in success.

“It’s the beginning of a positive work ethic. I want them to feel comfortable walking into a potential job situation or running their own businesses,” said MacLeod. “No matter what path they choose or what reason they originally came into the program, the ultimate goal is to walk out feeling empowered, feeling strong and feeling ‘I got this.’”

Kristine Jean, TownandCountryToday.com