On May 2, Class 12 of Kitchens for Good’s Project Launch program started training. Funded through the San Diego Workforce Partnership as a CalFresh Employment and Training program, the 12-week certified culinary apprenticeship program aimed to increase the employment and earning potential of CalFresh recipients.
California is one of only ten states that administers this type of program at the county level, giving San Diego an opportunity to utilize CalFresh— also known as the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—funds to effectively meet the unique needs of the community.
According to one USDA study, only 70 percent of eligible people in California participated in SNAP in 2015, putting the state in the bottom quartile of the National SNAP participation rate. SDWP’s aims is to leverage county funding for job training and employment programs to augment the system’s capacity to provide services and outreach to engage individuals from low-income households who qualify. By engaging in E&T services, a large portion of SNAP recipients are able to meet the general work requirement, which is a condition of maintaining eligibility. Through SNAP E&T, they will learn the importance of work and responsibility to become self-sustaining without the added stress of putting healthy food on the table.
On August 2, 2018, 12 CalFresh-enrolled graduates celebrated the completion of their training at the Project Launch Graduation. Project Launch trains 90 individuals a year to launch their career in the culinary and hospitality industry. The program serves individuals from populations experiencing high unemployment rates: formerly incarcerated adults, foster youth, survivors of domestic violence, individuals with lived experience of mental illness, and individuals with histories of substance abuse.
Individuals who wish to enter the program have to be ready to put in the time and effort. “It’s a 7-page application process to be considered for the program, followed by a 30-minute interview,” says Aviva Paley, Senior Director and Co-Founder of Kitchen’s for Good. “After that, participants must undergo a kitchen trial in order to pass and get accepted into the program.” Then the real work begins.
Project Launch is comprised of a 12-week culinary and workforce training module, followed by 17 months of paid on-the-job training. Students receive technical culinary education, customer service training, industry certification, experience working in a high-volume production kitchen, and internship and job placement services. The program takes a “whole-person” approach to vocational training, incorporating culinary arts, nutrition education, soft skills, resume writing and financial literacy. Students practice their culinary skills and give back to the community during classes by preparing healthy meals that are distributed to hunger relief agencies.
Class 12 graduates earned positions at top restaurants and hotels across San Diego such as Cucina Urbana, Starlite Lounge, USS Midway and Moonlight Amphitheatre. “We have more chefs than we have graduating students, so there’s a huge demand from employers to hire,”.
During the ceremony, the graduates had a chance to stand up and speak about their experience. “I lost who I was until I was put in jail, but it was a blessing in disguise,” shared Javier Lopez, a Class 12 graduate who is now working at Moonlight Amphitheatre. “I have always loved cooking and this program has changed my life completely. The people here care about you and accept you for who you are and not what you’ve done.”
Another participant, Jesus Campos, shares his story, “I decided I would no longer enter the system again. Kitchens for Good was my chance to get back on my feet.” Jesus lived through many hardships, but now he is proud to announce his employment at Terra American Bistro. “I learned so much here in the kitchen, but most of all, I learned discipline and self-respect. Thanks to the program, I am proud to say I am an employed cook.”
Visit the Project Launch website for more information on how to apply or refer someone to the program.
SDWP is currently recruiting service providers to partner with SDWP by receiving reimbursement of training costs that serve CalFresh recipients. Those that are interested may contact Jennifer Lehner, Program Specialist, at email@example.com.