“We cover gaps in the system and help young people achieve their dreams and personal goals.” - Questers

“We cover gaps in the system and help young people achieve their dreams and personal goals.”

In December, when the holiday spirit filled the air, we decided to give joy in a special way. We supported The Social Teahouse by purchasing 300 gift boxes filled with festive goodies as traditional gifts for our employees, clients and partners. This simple gesture wasn't just about gifts, it was about supporting young people from a problematic social environment, providing them with opportunities and tools to live an independent life and to grow both personally and professionally.

To learn more about The Social Teahouse and its mission, we spoke with Steliyana Tonchevska-Marinova (or just Stella), Managing Director of The Social Teahouse Foundation. Stella who has worked at the Teahouse for five years, shared her journey from being an event attendee to becoming an integral part of the team.

With a degree in War Studies, Stella brings a unique perspective to her role. She believes in the power of education and how it can change lives for the better. For Stella, working at the Teahouse is not just a job - it is a way to make a real difference in the world. Here's what she shared with us:

Hello! We are pleased to meet you. How would you describe your organisation to someone who hasn't heard of it before? What is the main difference between a traditional and a social teahouse?

Have you ever visited a teahouse in the mountains? It is warm, the people are smiling and the company is great. Well, The Social Teahouse is just like that! The special bit is that we provide first job opportunities and mentorship support to youngsters at risk.

The Social Teahouse Foundation has been helping youth at risk for the last 15 years. At first, it started as volunteer groups visiting state care institutions to help the youngsters residing there to acquire skills or just have some fun time together. Later, the actual Teahouse opened in Varna, which provided opportunities for adolescents to start their first job in a coffee shop - to learn how to make drinks, prepare food, greet customers and host events. Right now, we help teenagers in different ways - through their job in the Teahouse, by selling products with a cause, which help our mentorship program, through various seminars, lectures, workshops and through many opportunities to follow their dreams and acquire valuable skills for their life ahead.

What is the mission of The Social Teahouse?

We dream of a world where children who have grown up without parental care and appropriate developmental support have equal opportunities with their peers. They will have the necessary experience, social skills, emotional support and personal qualities to live fulfilling lives and have stable jobs. We envision a world in which, 30 years from now, society will be enriched by some wonderful people who can be doctors, lawyers, scientists or ordinary citizens, leading normal lives, without criminal or marginal behavior, or the need to depend on social services. In other words, in 30 years' time, we imagine a world in which there will be no need for us in the way we currently function.

The stigma around children in care will disappear, thus greatly improving their well-being and the world will welcome some well-prepared adults. We will achieve our goals by providing all the skills needed to live independently as a fulfilled adult to children and young people who have grown up in institutions where they have not had the opportunity to develop these skills. We cover gaps in the system and help young people achieve their dreams and personal goals.

Could you please share some details about your mentoring program: how do you support young people in Bulgaria?

Our mentorship program's goal is to empower and inspire young people at risk to realise their dreams and plans. This might have many different aspects. Youngsters who are residing in state care institutions take part in our mentorship program through our weekly workshops, which can vary from going to the cinema to lectures on human trafficking prevention, board games or cooking workshops.

Young people whose first job is in the Teahouse in Varna participate in a more detailed version of the program. They pinpoint the goals, towards which they will work at the time of their employment. They have a personal mentor who supports them on their journey. The Teahouse has many different projects, through which we have helped adolescents from institutions, schools or other organisations. We focus on topics like healthy lifestyle, prevention of risky behavior, social entrepreneurship or navigating the labor market and avoiding exploitation. We provide a skill-based approach using the peer-to-peer method so that the juniors understand the relevance of the topics.

Social Teahouse

What are your biggest challenges and how do you overcome them?

Managing a social enterprise in Bulgaria is in itself a challenge. There is still a lack of understanding and even legislative support. In fact, sometimes the social care system makes our job harder because it does not provide youngsters with the relevant skills and information to live a fulfilling life after they exit the state institutions. Other times, local businesses compete with us and "steal" our event ideas. And other times, it is public institutions that fail to see the importance of our work, which could be demonstrated by the fact that we have not succeeded in receiving a suitable location for our teahouse in Plovdiv, despite our efforts over the last three years.

People often think that working directly with teenagers is our biggest challenge. However, if we have the support of our local environment, working with the youth is a very rewarding process that we definitely don't mind doing. We have managed to overcome many challenges on our way through the support of the many partners we have met over the years, one of which is Questers.

As an organisation, what is your biggest achievement so far?

Our biggest achievement is providing opportunities for youngsters in various ways and even small success stories are big achievements to us. We have been doing this for many years, through which we have seen and heard many stories. We have tried our best to provide a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on and we have celebrated happy times together with our youngsters.

From the standpoint of a local organisation, a major success of ours is scaling the Teahouse in Plovdiv, Veliko Tarnovo and Brussels. There are not many social enterprises that have managed to achieve that and we hope that this is only the beginning and one day every major city will have its own Social Teahouse that helps at-risk youth.

Social Teahouse

What are the long-term and short-term goals you have set for the Social Teahouse?

As we have mentioned, our long-term goal is to have branches in many different locations. However, we realise that it will take years until this becomes a reality, so regarding the short-term goals, we have dedicated our efforts to provide support to as many youngsters as we can reach, engaging our local communities and acquiring the valuable support of the business sector. We are working towards fine-tuning our program for employment in the Teahouse, making our products better and engaging our local communities so that everyone can see how they can be helpful when it comes to supporting young people at risk.

An important short-term goal is raising awareness in the business sector about working with vulnerable people because we realised that we are preparing young people to enter the labor market, however, the labor market is not prepared to include them. In the next 2 years, the Teahouse will provide workshops on different skills that could help employers to accommodate the needs of vulnerable groups no matter whether we are talking about young people at risk, single parents, first-time employees, school dropouts or people with disabilities. We believe that everyone's skills are valuable in the labor market and we should work together to ensure an inclusive work environment.

Do you receive support from the Bulgarian business community?

We are happy to say that the Bulgarian business community has been supporting us since the beginning of our work. In the last couple of years, it has been very evident not only through direct donations to our cause but also through purchases of products with a cause for some of the biggest holidays throughout the year like Christmas. We strive to provide our partners with good quality, locally made products that they can use as gifts for their employees or partners.

Businesses have supported many opportunities for our youngsters like organising an internship for young people from Plovdiv at the Teahouse in Varna, opportunities for our team to get together and plan the organisational goals and in-kind donations that helped us renovate and furnish the building in Varna.

At the end of last year, a corporate partner helped us secure funding to educate more youngsters on their rights and responsibilities as employees and to organise an Employers Academy, through which employers are educated on topics such as emotional intelligence, working with vulnerable groups and fostering good team dynamics.

We hope that our partnership with the Bulgarian business community flourishes and they can recognise us as a valuable partner who can be helpful in many ways - by providing quality products, sharing knowledge about working with young and vulnerable people and providing a cozy event space in Varna for them to use.

In December 2023, Questers decided to support the organization's mission by purchasing over 300 Christmas gift boxes for employees, customers and partners and thus made a direct donation for the total amount of BGN 10 000. Would you share how you plan to use this contribution?

Firstly, we would like to say how amazing Questers' support has been and thank you for believing in our cause. The contribution you have provided will be used to support our mentorship program in Varna and Plovdiv throughout the whole year. This means the youngsters in both cities will have the opportunity to participate in weekly workshops on various topics, gain new skills and receive support in fulfilling their goals.

Part of the donation has already been used to support a trip to Brussels for six young people and their mentors. To them, this was an amazing opportunity where they boarded a plane for the first time, went abroad for the first time, saw a big institution like the European Parliament, rode the subway for the first time, tried local food and saw how many opportunities await them if they choose to work for their dreams.

Are there any upcoming events and initiatives you would like to share about?

As already mentioned, The Social Teahouse is starting to work closely with employers on ways to include vulnerable people in the work environment. We will provide practical training and support to employers to understand how to accommodate the needs of vulnerable people without compromising their company values or the team dynamics they have created.

We are working on different high-quality merchandise goods our partners may need, we are developing new event formats to engage the audience in Varna and we are working actively in Brussels to establish the Teahouse there. We will be happy if you join us on our adventures and follow The Social Teahouse's social media accounts to learn the news firsthand.

Social Teahouse