18 Newsboys Foundation 125 Years In 2008, Amanda Joyce had her big idea. As a teacher at the Victorian College for the Deaf, right next to Wesley College on St Kilda Road, she’d long been concerned by the apparent missing link in her students’ attempts to move outside of the deaf community into the wider world. “Some of the students were leaving school and they weren’t really ready for employment, they were not quite coping in TAFE or university,” she explained. “They were moving from our school in a deaf environment, a safe and nurtured place, into the hearing world and we weren’t equipping all of them for that as much as we could be.” And so, she convinced the school’s executive to allow her to step beyond the classroom and tackle this knowledge gap head-on. She opened the Tradeblock Café, right there in a red brick building on the school’s grounds, with a high ceiling and lots of windows, nestled up against the High Street fence. Amanda applied for and received a Newsboys Foundation grant to help prepare the space as a café, with the goal of teaching deaf employees valuable skills, while enabling them to interact with hearing clientele and develop their social skills as well as future employment potential. It would be fair to say the Newsboys Foundation money was well spent. Now the Tradeblock Café is a welcoming place, with mismatched furniture, delicious home-made food and good coffee. A mix of hearing-impaired students, employees and local volunteers buzz around, taking care of the front of house and the large kitchen out the back, while Amanda and her assistant, Nicole McRae, run the business. “It’s not without its challenges,” she admitted. “There are those days when three fridges decide to break down at once; things like that. You need to be really good at problem solving. It’s really two jobs in one so the hours are exhausting but it’s fun and it makes you want to get up in the morning. I’m very proud of the café and my awesome team.” She also admits that she is deliberately tough on the deaf students, forcing them out of the school’s usual comfort zone. “I have to be hardcore and genuinely prepare them for the non-deaf environment,” she explained. “It can’t be too safe here.” But the rewards are potentially immense, even beyond ‘coffee snob’ Amanda’s satisfaction in the quality of the lattés. “It’s all about the ‘soft skills’, such as communication and independence,” she said. “Teamwork and interpersonal skills. The staff deal with the public and the café has become a meeting place. It’s not voyeuristic, instead it’s an interesting environment where the public can take a step in the students’ direction, instead of the students always having to use strategies to get their message across in the outside world.” Many former students of the Victorian College for the Deaf have returned to build their confidence and gain new skills before reapproaching the outside world that had previously seemed daunting. “People struggle out there so now they have somewhere to come back to,” Amanda said. “Sometimes they need to go out beyond the school, have a go, fail, get up again and sort it out to go back.” Most years, six to eight students get a chance to join Amanda’s café teaching environment, while others might help out as work experience. “I’ve seen so many students grow here, and now they’re just motoring along,” she said. “You can see the students really developing and blossoming. It would be good to do more like this at our college because the skills are so transferable, just really good life skills.” Newsboys Foundation provided a seed grant to the Victorian College for the Deaf to set up the Tradeblock Café in 2008. Visit: Vcd.vic.edu.au The life skills café The Tradeblock Café is where young deaf students learn a range of skills and prepare themselves for life after school