Community Servings, a nonprofit provider of medically tailored meals and nutrition services to individuals and families in Massachusetts experiencing critical and chronic illnesses, recently announced the launch of its redesigned Teaching Kitchen program, a free 12-week hands-on food service job-training program for individuals facing barriers to full-time employment.
Beginning in July, classes will resume inside the Learning Kitchen at Community Servings’ “Food Campus” in Jamaica Plain. In a first for the program, many students will be eligible to receive an earned training wage thanks in part to generous support from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s Community-based Health Initiative funds, which were recently awarded to the agency as part of a three-year, $500,000 Focused Investment Grant aimed at addressing job and financial security in the community. As they learn food preparation and cooking skills, Teaching Kitchen trainees also help the agency prepare more than 3,000 medically tailored meals that are delivered daily to clients.
“Restarting an enhanced Teaching Kitchen program has been a priority for us since March 2020, and the grant support from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center couldn’t have come at a better time,” said David B. Waters, CEO of Community Servings. “We are proud to play a part in training a new generation of cooks and also ensure that people who have faced challenging circumstances have an opportunity to change their lives through meaningful and rewarding work in the foodservice industry.”
The redesigned program now features a competencies-based approach to measuring and supporting individual trainee growth, allowing students to understand specific areas for development and celebration while enrolled. Also, a two-phase program delineation will be incorporated into the program’s structure for the first time, giving students the opportunity to experience a sense of accomplishment halfway through the program as phase one winds down and before phase two begins. Other updates include new employer pipeline partnerships and a social enterprise component expected to launch in 2022.
A core purpose of the Teaching Kitchen – helping people from underserved communities learn new skills and expand their job prospects – will continue to be emphasized as a response to many of the injustices and inequalities exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis. The Teaching Kitchen supports individuals who may have limited formal education or those recovering from substance use, experiencing homelessness or periodic unemployment, or returning to the workforce after incarceration.
The first of six 12-week Teaching Kitchen sessions will begin on July 12. The program – led by Teaching Kitchen Program Manager Allison Sequeira and Chef Instructor Damian Zedower – covers a series of 80 competencies, including culinary, job and life skills. The curriculum includes food safety plus nutritional and digital literacy, and students receive prep for the ServSafe certification exam. Upon graduation, each trainee will receive ongoing supports, including job placement and job retention assistance for one year.
“The Teaching Kitchen has helped trainees find remarkable success – in the last year of instruction, 80 percent of graduates obtained gainful employment in the food service industry,” Sequeira said. “With the food service industry currently facing a severely constrained workforce as the recovery from COVID-19 continues, we anticipate there being ample opportunities for Teaching Kitchen graduates to begin and build their careers.”
Teaching Kitchen sessions include additional opportunities to learn from guest chef demonstrations and field trips to food service settings such as a restaurant kitchen, commissary or food supply warehouse. Additionally, through a partnership with the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation, all trainees participate in financial literacy training, including basic banking, understanding credit, and following a budget.
Individuals interested in joining the Teaching Kitchen’s first cohort of students for the July 12 session or the second cohort for the Sept. 13 session can visit www.servings.org/job-training.
Community Servings also received generous support for the Teaching Kitchen program from the following funders: Access to Recovery; Gardiner Howland Shaw Foundation; Highland Street Foundation; Jacques Pépin Foundation; Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission; NBC10 Boston, Telemundo Boston, NECN and the Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation; People’s United Community Foundation; SNAP Employment and Training; State Street Foundation; The Frederick E. Weber Charities Corp.; The Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development’s Neighborhood Jobs Trust; and Timothy Smith Trust.