Emerge Food Van & Youth Hub

By Jen Shaw

Campaign Completed on
09-03-2018

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The Emerge food van creates opportunities in training, access to foundational life skills and mentorship for disengaged and at-risk youth..

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My vision is to create a social impact catering business and food van that provides training and job confidence to at risk youth, a youth hub and drop in space as well as a community kitchen. Changing lives through community & food.

You have the opportunity to be part of the founding story of Emerge and help bring this to life, literally changing the lives of young people in Toowoomba.



Central to this vision is beautiful and healthy food production. We will teach young people the elements of successful catering, utilising both a mobile food van and a bricks and mortar premises. As well as a commercial kitchen, our planned bricks and mortar location will provide a dedicated youth space for youth-led events and programs, and later on will support other community and social enterprises, that's a little bit further down the track though.. let's get back to that food van and the Emerge program.


Emerge aims to complement existing youth organisations by offering a unique and holistic program that engages young people who may be facing homelessness, participating in dangerous or anti-social activities, exiting youth detention or drug rehabilitation, under youth justice orders or who are identified as being at risk of disengagement from school, their family or the wider community.


The Emerge program provides foundational cooking skills and kitchen hygiene, healthy nutrition information, elements of physical fitness, practical street safety, goal setting and positive self-esteem building and access to positive community mentors who meet them where they are at. During the program particpants are invited and encouraged to take on regular work experience in the food van to build job confidence and experience. After completion of the program particpants may wish to further pursue a traineeship with Emerge and receive a Certificate 3 in hospitality. Additionally young people who are not particapating in the Emerge program who require flexible work experience may apply to undertake on the job training only.



How is Emerge DIfferent?


Toowoomba & The Darling Downs has a growing number of young people facing disadvantage through homelessness, living in foster or residential care or living in homes that are not safe as well as young people experiecing mental health illnesses, engaging in dangerous or criminal activities and disengaging from the community .


While we have many amazing youth focused organisations for youth intervention, outreach and crisis support Emerge's difference is in empowering young people towards a positive future with practical resources, positive exposure and and street level approaches.


As an organisation we promote the inclusion of the entire community to being a part of the Emerge project and further encourage young people to be at the wheel of their own solutions and engaging with the entire community in continuity well after their particpation in the program or traineeships.




Who I am and why im the best person to bring this vision to life..

" I struggle but I emerge"


In case we havent met before, let me introduce myself and why this vision is important to me.

My name is Jen Shaw. I'm a mum of 7, cookbook author, food personality and novice chicken farmer. You can find more about my passion for real food on Facebook at Jen Shaw or looking for me around the world wide web.

I also happen to have a history that places me in a unique and ideal position to create an organization like Emerge.

I left my home at a very young age due to family violence and drug abuse. At the tender age of 13 I was already disengaging from school, walking the streets of Toowoomba, engaging with criminal and dangerous behaviours. I had given up on myself. Any thoughts of a future simply didn’t exist.

By 15 I was pregnant and was suddenly a single mother. Every choice I made from there seemed to have a negative consequence and I spiraled further and further into hardship and social disadvantage.

Mentally I have struggled with anxiety and depression and I had very little self-worth. It's taken me a long time to come to terms with where I have been in life and where I can go from here, but I've always felt that my pain must have a purpose. Emerge, I believe, is that exact purpose.


Thankfully with the help of amazing mentors and positive role models i've been able to get my life back on track. I've built a successful health and wellness business and i've been building a community of over 34,000 people who have bought my books, attended my workshops and take on follow my journey because they adore my genuine need to help and my authentic message in creating social change.


Unfortunately, my story isn’t an isolated one. There are literally thousands of kids around Toowoomba and Australia who are going through similar challenges. Just kids, like any other. Born with potential, but somewhere along the line, they had their ‘happy’ stolen from them. So many go on to make poor choices and do things that, as adults, we find hard to understand.


They are our kids and they need our help.


My story could have ended so, so differently. If it wasn’t for the care of some incredible mentors who met me where I was at and provided me with practical, down to earth opportunities to work, take care of myself and see my worth, I would not be where I am today.

My story has a happy ending. I found a way to overcome many disadvantages, meet a prince charming, build a successful food and health business and reconnect with my family.


This isn’t how it ends for many other kids.


Many of my former friends and kids everywhere in our community find themselves in prison, addicted to drugs, in violent relationships, living in poverty, homeless and crippled by social disadvantage. It's a tough web to crawl out of and something that can only be overcome through huge amounts of resilience, willpower and self-determination.


I'm a walking proof. If given the opportunity to re-engage in training with understanding and compassionate mentors, young people can become empowered to change their lives.


Emerge will create new opportunities and bridge the gap that exists between these young people and our wider community.



What are we doing now?


It's been a huge year for us since the initial founding of Emerge.


The idea had been tumbling around since I started to get my life on track many years ago but it was truly brought to life a little over 12 months ago after the passing of my grandmother – a true pioneer and advocate for real people creating real change.


I've spent my time since then engaging with youth-at-risk and community services, learning about the problems that exist in our community and what I can do to help change the landscape a little.


What I have learned is; Toowoomba is in desperate need of a dedicated hands on youth training program that not only accepts referrals from other organisations, but creates an environment that kids WANT to attend.


It is of upmost importance that through this journey the most important voice we listen to is the voice of young people in Toowoomba. The repeated and most consistent message is that training and work experience are the hardest things to access, especially if they have poor school attendance, issues with mental health, or their home environment isn’t a very nice one.


Everyone has a story. Rather than judge people based on their past, we want to ensure we are meeting young people where they are in life right now and focusing on the future.


We are in the process of forming an official board, We have a local lawyer engaged to help us become an Incorporated Association Limited by Guarantee. It's our plan to ultimately become a not-for-profit organisation.


We continue to show real progress towards this goal every week. Being able to purchase this food van will help us, not only get started, but to gain more exposure and credibility in our community to help us get to the next phases down the track!



Emerge Girls...

I recently launched the first of a range of programs that we will offer through Emerge called ‘Emerge Girls’. The girls-only mentorship, life-skill and empowerment program is already proving to be a huge success, even though it is currently in pilot phase. Emerge girls focuses on essential life skills in cooking, nutrition, independent living, goal setting and provides access to positive mentors from the community.Once we have the van it will also provide a low-pressure opportunity to engage in work experience that will build job confidence and provide essential employment skills.


Our young women give me regular feedback about how much they look forward to attending the weekly sessions and how much they appreciate engaging in something that improves their life without the pressure they are used to in imposed, traditional therapy.


" The Emerge program is good because it actually gives me the opportunity to make new friends and plan my future" - Hayley



(Our Emerge Girls Mentors Toni Trace PT, Jen Shaw, Founder Aleea Moodie, Yoga Instructor & Tash Ziebarth, Chef.)



We are now in the planning stages of offering a second program/meetup group that provides a weekly meetup for youth who become parents earlier than expected. The group will provide a balanced, weekly meal and a guest attendee to ensure positive outcomes for both parents and children.


We have also officially started our catering services, giving opportunities for training to both our Emerge Girls and young people within other programs. So far the feedback has been outstanding!



The First Step...

We have been blessed to have on board Sherry McDowell who owns a catering, pre-made meal and event food van. Sherry is passionate about supporting youth and creating amazing food so was quick to jump on board to bring this vision to life.

Sherry generously offered us the use of her food van so we can test menu ideas and business plans. This has allowed us the time and resources to create a business that is both profitable and and provides the highest impact opportunities in work and training for young people.


Our intention is to purchase the van, fully kitted out for an EXTREMELY low cost. This will enable us to launch into bigger opportunities, provide more work experience and commence traineeships.


With your help we could be fueling up and creating yummy food with Emerge as early as this Christmas!



So what is social enterprise anyway?


As a social enterprise, all of our profits will go straight back into providing youth programs and opportunities, and funding the planned youth hub and community kitchen.


While we do plan to apply for grants, ideally we want to create a business that provides sustainable funding for Emerge as an organisation using the principles of commercial business.


This is where we need the village to step up.


Every cent you donate during this campaign will go directly towards purchasing the food van and getting us on the road to providing delicious catering and providing real work experience and traineeships for disengaged kids.


What we need:

(Please note chuffed adds an additional and optional fee based on your donation you can edit it down to a small processing fee only)


Tipping Goal: $60,000


This gets us started in the food van and allows us to commence Stage One of Emerge and offer low-pressure training, build their confidence and give them real work experience to put on their resumes.


Our dedicated mentor programs will be able to extend to include a hand on work experience element immediately in 2018.


Once we have ownership of the van we can create opportunity to take on our very first trainee!



Stretch Goal: $100,000


Surplus funds from this campaign will be used to provide advanced support to our young people, ensuring they have everything they need to successfully undertake training.



Additional surplus funds will see us in our own premises located in the heart of Toowoomba. This location will provide a dedicated youth hub / drop-in centre, program / training hub as well as a dedicated catering kitchen. This will be used to expand our catering capabilities, host community cooking classes and support other small food and social enterprises in a fully decked out commercial kitchen down the track.


We aim to create a space that is community driven, is non-government, non-religious and unbiased. Real faces for real people.


I'm committed to making this happen, but I can't do it alone.


It really does take a village.


Can you help?




Check out some more information about Emerge in the media!


Win News Story - Video

The Toowoomba Chronicle




Check us out on Facebook, Instagram or our Website


A big thanks to our crowdfund sponsor Lisa Corduff for her love,support and belief in this project. We are so grateful for your sponsorship to help make this happen.


Big love to James Vailahi for the help making the video for this campaign jumping in, getting it done at short notice because your heart is huge! Thankyou!



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Team Members

Jen Shaw

Team Emerge

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