OWN IT 2016 | COMMUNITY
Written and Photographed by Darin White
Joe Mancini (right), head of The Working Centre, says "always do ten things at once."
My tour of their new space at 256 King Street East was no exception.
"Francis, get in this picture, too!" Joe urges Francis Mbewe who has established a micro-loan system in his native Zambia to support local business. Joe and Francis swapped stories of helping their communities get a leg up while I tagged along.
I still encounter people who don't know The Working Centre. That seems impossible given the multi-headed nature of their work, and a track record dating back to their 1982 start. Joe and his wife Stephanie Mancini started the organization as a response to poverty and unemployment in Downtown Kitchener. Thirty-four years later, while still serving that original mission, the group provides a platform for social innovation.
"Everything you need to know about The Working Centre is found in the programs we provide," says Joe.
Those programs connect people with jobs, operate a busy café, recycle computers and bicycles to resell, and teach skills in their arts space.
Reconstruction on their most recently acquired space began back in June 2015. When it's up and running it will offer four primary areas of service in addition to affordable housing for eight people on the top floor:
"We're not doing anything new here in this building, just extending it," Joe explains as we step around pipe installation work and say hello to busy painters.
Part of the work on 256 King is being done by people from TWC's job exchange offering temporary work. In addition to engaging certified tradespeople, one component of the renovation work paused to connect with Conestoga College student schedules. They put their studies into practice installing drywall. This inclusive shift is emblematic of The Working Centre's collaborative approach to self-help.
The Working Centre is far more than a place to improve your resume or a spot to go if you're down on your luck. Similar to the Communitech Hub or UW's Velocity Program, it's a dynamic community that enables entrepreneurship and providing people with the tools and resource they need.
The Commons Studio - Martin de Groot
The Digital Media Lab - Martin Edmonds
The Youth Entrepreneurship Project - Jane Snyder (right)
The Coffee Bar and Kitchen - Rebecca Mancini
The intent with the coffee bar is to continue the welcome that the Queen Street Commons Café offers and bring that to 256 King with opportunities to experiment and align the two.
The commercial kitchen in back will support expanded catering work, artisanal cooking and learning opportunities.
"Around here the only constant is that everything changes. It's an important thing because it helps us stay responsive."
Left to Right: Martin de Groot; Martin Edmonds; Rebecca Mancini