Joe Mancini & The Working Centre: Helping at Street Level

Written and Photographed by Darin White

Photo of Joe Mancini   

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:

  • The Commons Studio with multimedia gear rentals and film making facilities
  • The Digital Media Lab for learning and creating with software
  • The Youth Entrepreneurship Project helping young people start businesses
  • A coffee bar and commercial kitchen

"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
A long-time supporter of the arts, Martin enables experienced and aspiring filmmakers alike. With $100/year membership fee, The Commons Studio offers affordable rentals of cameras, lenses, lighting and audio gear. Advanced editing software and computers are available for members, and most importantly the Studio serves as a connecting point for sharing expertise and encouragement. Their new space at 256 King will include a green-screen room and a recording studio.

Contact: film-making@theworkingcentre.org

The Digital Media Lab - Martin Edmonds
Extending existing programs that teach Microsoft Office software, Martin noted new classes being added. The Digital Media for Youth program, has had two sessions already. The groups of eight learned to create videos, use social media tools, make mobile apps and develop web pages. 256 King will boost the collaborative environment. Media captured in the studio can then be edited, produced, printed, and shown in the neighbouring media lab. Martin describes it as "a place where youth who are passionate about technology and digital media can come and hang out together and learn from each other."

Contact: digitalmedia@theworkingcentre.org

The Youth Entrepreneurship Project - Jane Snyder (right)
Jane Snyder, heading up the Youth Entrepreneurship Project, talks to people under 30 about ways they can earn an income. I caught her mid-meeting with Ellen Bleaney also of TWC. Helping people always involves a lot of conversation about different paths to income: getting a job, starting a business, developing a plan. YEP helped 14 youth last year and is on target to help another 15 young entrepreneurs this year. Jane urges those interested "to come with a business idea and be willing to move it forward."

Contact: yep@theworkingcentre.org

The Coffee Bar and Kitchen - Rebecca Mancini
"These ideas are still under a lot of development," Rebecca Mancini cautions me with a chuckle.

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."




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Other faces of the Working Centre:

Left to Right: Martin de Groot; Martin Edmonds; Rebecca Mancini

Photo of Joe Mancini Working Centre

Photo of Joe Mancini Working Centre

Photo of Joe Mancini Working Centre