Coffee vans drive a better future for ACT teens

Canberra’s ‘Cruisin Cafes’ are changing lives and building brighter futures.

“These kids have been through some damn tough times – more than what most people could imagine,” says Cheryl O’Donnell, CEO of Canberra Police Citizens Youth Club (PCYC).

“This is giving them an opportunity – you can see the huge smiles on their faces, it’s changing their lives.”

As Cheryl explains the mobile coffee van initiative she leads, her band of young baristas are serving free coffee and banana bread to first responders from NSW Police, Australian Federal Police, NSW Ambulance, NSW Fire & Rescue, Rural Fire Service and the State Emergency Service.

Cheryl O’Donnell, CEO of Canberra PCYC. Photo: Region Media.

It’s Thank a First Responder Day and Canberra PCYC has teamed up with Fortem Australia to provide morning or afternoon tea to police stations in Queanbeyan, Majura Park and Tuggeranong.

“For all the effort the teams go to – whether its police, fire, ambos, the SES – all those guys do amazing jobs throughout the year protecting communities, so it’s nice to give back,” Cheryl explains.

“I love what Fortem is doing to support our emergency services – they don’t get enough recognition. What these guys see is beyond most people – I wouldn’t like to do their job.”

Cheryl’s husband had a 30-year career with NSW Police but it’s her own background that drives her work with PCYC.

 “I grew up much like these kids, it was pretty tough, but I never let things get me down, and if someone said no to me, well I said – stand back and watch me,” she laughs.

The young adults Cheryl is working with come for disadvantaged backgrounds and have struggled with school and life. The support and training offered by Canberra PCYC and their two mobile coffee vans is the break many have needed to reboot their lives.

“They are doing a Certificate 4 in Hospitality and Barista – we’ve just put four of them on fulltime traineeships, so they are earning a wage,” Cheryl says.

“They’re out in the vans every day and we’ve just set up a café in an aged care home, so they are running a café from there as well.

“The kids love it, and people love the kids – and I absolutely love it because a lot of these kids wouldn’t get the opportunity otherwise.

“It builds their self-esteem and their self-worth and gets some good role models and positiveness around them – and opens them to other job opportunities, they can go on to something else.”

The Canberra PCYC ‘Crusin Cafes’ in action. Photo: Canberra PCYC Facebook.

The ‘Cruisin Cafes’ can be hired out for functions, “I’d like to see a fleet of these vans out on the road,” Cheryl adds.

Any money made goes back into the program, creating opportunities for more young people.

The community can get involved by becoming a mentor or volunteering in any way and “donations are always welcome, we never have enough funding,” Cheryl says.

“That’s where the idea of this social enterprise comes into it – we are putting money back into PCYC.”

Launched by the Governor General no less in October last year, the vans are backed by the support of The Snow Foundation, Trailer King, Cosmorex Coffee, College of Transformation Education and Training, Salvation Army Employment, the Boorer Foundation and Hands Across Canberra.

For more information on the ‘Cruisin Cafés’ email Canberra PCYC –

To get involved in upcoming Fortem events check our Wellbeing Activities Calendar, you’ll also find mental health resources for first responders and their families in the Fortem Resource Library and via Peak Fortem.

Fortem activities, events and community engagements are designed to support the mental fitness of our first responder families. Read more about Our Approach.
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