Counseling and Support at FareStart: Healing Trauma and Removing Barriers to Success

November 19, 2019

FareStart supporters understand that jobs can changes lives. But do you know how our students get themselves ready for sustained, stable employment?

For FareStart students in our adult programs, the journey to becoming employable long term is often an intense one. It requires them to work on themselves and make big changes in their self-perception and their life outlook, a difficult undertaking that many people never have to face. Most enrollees arrive at FareStart with a heavy load of negative self-image, hopelessness, and trauma which makes it hard to be successful. Coming through our doors is the critical first step on a journey to healing that the FareStart community supports all the way, even after graduation and employment.

What is FareStart’s secret sauce that allows students to transform their lives? We know from experience and our student outcomes that it is the caring support and attention to their healing, the sense of the community we provide, the resources offered and the high level of collaboration of staff and partners to provide those resources. While FareStart is known for its culinary training, in reality, our primary goal is to remove all barriers to success for each student, whatever they may be. FareStart provides holistic, customized support to meet the needs of each individual students to a degree that stands out in the social services sector and has proven effective for our students’ healing and growth. It is a time- and resource-intensive approach, but it’s the approach that works to give individuals their best chance of long-term stability.

FareStart students entering the Adult Culinary Program typically have major health issues addressed and have committed to being clean and sober while in the program. When starting at FareStart, each person’s needs are assessed, from the basics – housing, food, clothing, toiletries, bedding – to legal and mental health issues. Each student has mental health counseling available through an onsite counselor from Sound (formerly known as Sound Mental Health) that is contracted by FareStart. Sound has been our mental health partner for over a decade. In recent years, however, responding to the increased levels of trauma in our student population (due in part to the high level of local homelessness and the trauma that it causes), FareStart brought a licensed mental health and substance use counselor from Sound on-site. This has increased access and removed the barrier of having to send people to an outside site. For the small number of students needing group counseling, more frequent counseling than we can offer on-site, or prescription medication, FareStart’s counselor will accompany them to Sound for their first appointment. Recovery circles are provided by Recovery Café, and AA meetings are also available to students.

In addition, students work continually throughout the FareStart Adult Culinary Program in Life Skills class, doing important personal work with other students under the guidance of our Life Skills instructor, Joan Curvey. They learn a shared vocabulary of “owning their greatness” and forming their “power team”, and they build an important support network while setting goals – vital processes that would have been impossible when these students were in basic survival mode, and challenging at best if their basics needs were not being met. 

The support provided means that an individual student could have four hours or even more of professional support per week while in training, a huge opportunity to work on breaking down their personal barriers, building a new sense of identity and self-worth, all while proving to themselves in the kitchens that they are capable of hard work, success and greatness. While this is a big investment of time and funds, our students’ lives and outlooks are forever different because FareStart puts these resources in place. They will carry these lessons forward no matter where they go.

Simultaneously, FareStart is investing in support for program staff who deal directly with students. Training is ongoing to make sure staff members are up to speed on best practices in trauma-informed care. Trauma-informed care is an organizational structure and treatment framework that involves understanding, recognizing and responding to the effects of all types of trauma.

With this framework, our staff strives to maintain an environment of healing and recovery and to avoid practices and services that may inadvertently re-traumatize.

In addition to promoting a safe and trauma-informed environment for students, FareStart has begun providing front-line staff with secondary trauma training in order to help them to deal with the effects of vicarious trauma from the students they work with and the cumulative toll it can take on employees’ work and personal lives. Further resources are available through our free Employee Assistance Program, a benefit for all FareStart staff that covers any and all issues that affect work and personal lives.

Providing staff with this kind of support for a heavy load of case management or a challenging training environment allows them to deliver the coordinated care that it takes for our students to be able to lift themselves out of poverty and find their paths to stable employment and stable lives.