‘A dream come true!’: Employment training makes a difference

June 29, 2023

In the coastal Delaware resort area, Grain on the Rocks – inside the Lewes Ferry Terminal – is a destination for those who enjoy a premier waterfront view, casual dining, outdoor concerts, or options to dine inside in air-conditioned comfort.

For the Food Bank of Delaware and Milford’s first Kitchen School students, it’s a lot more. It’s a job opportunity, and it’s also about making new friends, working as a team, and gaining meaningful employment. Students from Milford’s inaugural class are fully immersed in this real-world workplace environment, using their new skills and starting their careers.

Kitchen School students spend 8 weeks at the Food Bank kitchen in Newark or Milford; after that, an additional four weeks is spent transitioning to permanent employment through on-site job coaching. Students have also learned some workplace soft skills through classroom instruction.

Four students are part of the kitchen staff at Grain, and for an uninitiated observer the bustling work environment may seem like trial by fire. Grain seats 600 people inside the spacious dining room, and an outdoor concert can boost the number additional guests by 1,500, explains Chef William Gladney.

Like most restaurants facing staffing issues, Grain can benefit from skilled, dependable culinary staff, and this award-winning chef says he’s been happy that Victoria, Cassie, Kayla, and LaShaunda, our Kitchen School students, came on board about a week ago. Right now, they are mostly working mornings – doing essential prep work; chopping, weighing portions, among other tasks,  key to the success of a kitchen operation.

“I’m overly impressed,” said Gladney. “They are a big help, instrumental.”

This chef notes these new, part-time employees, have already expressed interest in moving into full-time positions. Victoria, for example, has been trying her hand – and quite successfully – at a sauté’ station. He’s provided LaShaunda with recipes, and she takes it from there.

“They fit in very well. It’s a breath of fresh air,” Gladney said.

The Kitchen School’s Chef Instructor Shalisa Alexander has made on-site visits to check on her protégés, and she too is pleased.  “This program has changed their lives and given opportunities to individuals that have been overlooked and undervalued,” she said.

The students agree: they love what they are doing. Gladney noted her was impressed with Cassie’s knife skills, so she was cutting up cherry tomatoes for salads. “I love it here. I get out of the house, and I’m working. This is my dream come true,” she said.

The Kitchen School seems to be a win-win for everyone. Chef Shalisa, who daily guided the students in making from-scratch meals, including themed lunch buffets, says she benefited from the kitchen classroom as well.

“What did I learn from the class? I learned perseverance, compassion, laughter and so much more.”

In partnership with the Delaware Restaurant Association and Delaware Department of Labor, the new Kitchen School program offers specialized training to provide employment opportunities in the food and hospitality industries for adults with disabilities.

Classes in Newark and Milford run from Sept. 5 through Oct. 27, with workplace transition Oct. 30- Nov. 22.  Sessions are 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. Monday-Thursday, and from 9 a.m. to noon on Friday.

The 12-week curriculum has been developed to include group instruction and individualized training in our two Culinary School professional kitchens – one in Newark and one in Milford.

Kitchen School staff assist students in finding partner employers whose needs match student strengths and help the transition into a permanent workplace. Additionally, Kitchen School staff provide support to students and employers for at least one year after graduation. Visit www.fbd.org/thekitchenschool for more information.

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