Larry LaRue: Goodwill program serves up espresso and careers

Organization’s barista training course gives youths, many of whom are dropouts, job prospects

Staff writerFebruary 10, 2014 

Twenty years old with a 15-month-old daughter, Danielle Wills has no job — something she plans on changing.

Classrooms put her off, so she attended an online high school. Now that she has a daughter, Citlali, Wills is living at home with her parents in Tacoma. She plans to change that, as well.

Finding work today isn’t easy for anyone, let alone single mothers without high school diplomas.

“There are not a lot of opportunities for young people to find a job,” Wills said. “I figured if I could get my hands on training, it would make it easier to find work.”

She went to Tacoma Goodwill’s Milgard Work Opportunity Center, where she read about youth barista training and met with the program director, Audra Laymon.

“It’s not a huge program, with seven annual cycles of 16 weeks each, some of them overlapping,” Laymon said. “We have a lengthy, competitive selection process and usually have four students per cycle.”

On the second and fourth Tuesday at 1:30 p.m., there’s an orientation class at the Milgard Center where the 16-week course is explained. If there’s anyone interested who can’t make that time, Laymon said, they can telephone her directly.

“After orientation, we’ll usually have eight to 10 people who want to follow up,” she said. “Some won’t show up for their interview. We tell them up front, a drug screen is part of this. After that, it comes down to who needs it most.

“We want to help the students who need us.”

The barista course is for students ages 16-24; the average age is 20, Laymon said. The course includes classroom work, then on-the-job training. Students also learn coffee history and the “espresso arts.”

Until late January, the hands-on part was done exclusively at a small cafe at the Milgard Center.

Now, Goodwill has a second coffee stand, and this one is off-campus.

“We knew Community Health Care was planning a clinic in the Hilltop, and they were aware of our program,” Laymon said. “It was a partnership, and we wanted a presence in the Hilltop.”

The new beverage stand, called Coffee Buzz, is in the building at 1202 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. It gives the Goodwill program and its students two venues for its program.

“They will now experience different paces and customer flow, different customers, environment and equipment,” Goodwill CEO Terry Hayes said. “Adapting to different locations makes them more qualified to step into both single shop and chain businesses, making them more competitive for job placement.”

That’s the whole point of the program — placing young people in the coffee business for which the Puget Sound area is nationally known.

“We started this in 2009 and have had 65 students graduate since then,” Laymon said. “Our placement rate is above 75 percent, and last year it was 88 percent.”

What’s all the more extraordinary is that many graduates are high school dropouts with no job experience who have never been part of a working team.

“Our first class, we talk about job skills like being on time, working enthusiastically, being part of a team or shift,” Laymon said. “Then we start with baby steps: how to work the machinery, how to deal with customers, work a cash register.”

Wills enters her sixth week of training Monday; she’s a fast learner who Laymon said has to battle boredom.

“She gets things fast, and when others need more time, she can lose focus a little,” Laymon said. “She’s hungry for information.”

Wills is eager to turn this tuition-free class into a job.

“I like the program; it’s very hands-on, which helps me focus,” she said. “If it were just regular classroom stuff, that would not be as easy for me. I pretty much know the basics now. I can steam milk, pull shots, make the drinks.”

Wills hasn’t burned herself yet, and Laymon said the program makes barista safety one of its main topics.

“This is embarrassing, but the last injury we had was me,” Laymon said. “I was cleaning something, took it for granted and sliced my finger. I became the cautionary tale.”

 • Contact youth barista program manager Audra Laymon by phone at 253-573-6560 or by email at

Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638

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