Meet the man behind the Darcy Street Project - John Cafferatta
Growing up in social housing as the son of Argentine immigrants, Darcy Street Project Director John Cafferatta saw first-hand the struggles his parents went through to raise a family in Australia.
Your start doesn’t determine your direction
“We were surrounded by people from all walks of life and at times we were confronted with violence. I think part of me thought no matter where you come from, it doesn't determine where you end up in your life. It doesn't determine your direction,” John said.
As soon as he was of working age, John set out to change his circumstances, working up to three jobs at a time while studying full-time at university.
“I had a full-time management role at a restaurant. I worked at Macca's and I worked at a steak house,” he said. “My parents instilled a very hard work ethic because they had to work so hard just to make ends meet.”
Paying it forward
Determined to make things easier for others, John worked as a TAFE trainer and trained people in the jail system, disengaged youth in high schools and other at-risk communities.
In 2014 he launched social enterprise Darcy Street Project to help others find their pathway and purpose in life, combining his hospitality and training background with a love of good food and coffee.
“Darcy Street added a sense of purpose in my own life to share my knowledge and experiences, because there have been a lot of people that have helped me in my life and it's only fair that I pay that forward to others looking for that same type of job,” he said.
“I had a great childhood and no matter what, everyday my mum would make extra food just in case someone unexpectedly showed up hungry.”
John describes the Darcy Street Project as “a humanitarian project disguised as a café” offering hospitality training and free meals to people facing barriers to employment such as food insecurity, mental health and social exclusion. There are three locations (Macquarie Park, Pitt Street and Moorebank) with a fourth café to be opened in partnership with Macquarie Community College in Epping this December.
A catalyst for change
Since the project started, thousands of students have come through the Darcy Street Project doors, but one student has been particularly memorable.
“We had a student that developed a serious brain injury from a car accident. He was struggling to find purpose in his life because the NDIS provider he was associated with lined him up with a very basic admin role for eight hours a day,” he said.
“He came to us with this huge desire to make coffees and become a barista. He had some physical disability, but he had the right attitude and determination, so we spent several months with this gentleman, and afterwards, he gained the skills and confidence to leave his job and find a barista role at a café.”
Creating a legacy
Reflecting on the barriers his parents overcame when they migrated into Australia, John said he hoped Darcy Street Project would be a catalyst to connect other migrants, refugees and disadvantaged people with services, providers and most importantly a sense of community.
“Students come for a reason, and mostly it's because of a settled life or more opportunities that Australia can provide. I think the most important thing is that they feel accepted, safe, and welcome. If we can achieve that, then we have a starting ground to assist them with the outcome they're after,” John said.
"For me it's important to create a legacy for my family, and for others that might be needing something like this to help them.”
To find out how to get involved in the Darcy Street Project call Macquarie Community College today on 1300 845 888 or visit our website.