‘A lifeline for me . . . ‘: HOPES program provides help, support, and hope

September 1, 2023

When Clarissa Haglid stepped up to the podium at the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s Hospitality/Pathways Conference last month in Washington, D.C., she represented the Food Bank of Delaware, the Delaware Restaurant Association (DRA) . . . and a lot more. She literally became the face of hope at the HOPES (Hospitality Opportunities For People (Re)Entering Society) Conference; she’s on the path from incarceration to redemption through training in the hospitality industry.

She graduated last week from the Food Bank’s Culinary School in Newark, and she’s already the first HOPES  participant – nationally – to be accepted into a line cook’s apprenticeship at the Embassy Suites in Newark. And her aspirations don’t stop there!

Clarissa, a Wilmington resident, credits Dr. Dwight Boney, Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution education director, with connecting her to the HOPES program; she was immediately interested in the Food Bank’s culinary training program; transportation is provided, and that was a bonus. Clarissa connected with Briyana Freeman, the HOPES Coordinator at the Food Bank of Delaware. The Food Bank is one of the one of the National Restaurant Association’s community-based organization partners. She connects with state Department of Education directors within the state’s Department of Corrections facilities.

After serving nearly four years in prison, Clarissa applied for the program, was interviewed on Zoom, and advanced into work-release status – a lower level of supervision. “I can go to work; I’m on probation, but I’m free with some restrictions,” Clarissa said. As the mom to two boys, she said her sons “need to see resilience, not just despair. People want to learn.  My experience at the Food Bank of Delaware has been a lifeline for me, being back in society. It’s helped my mental health, helped me regain confidence. I still have something to offer, and I’m able to reach people. I have support. Even thought I did something horrendous, people forgive me,” Clarissa said. “For a while, I thought Briyana’s name was Hope. I always knew that God had an opportunity for me. I just didn’t know what it would be,” she added. “Dr. Boney moves mountains for women, but I had to be willing to participate. I had to jump in. With the hospitality and restaurant industry, there’s so much opportunity out there. I didn’t realize how big a heart people have. You have to dream.”

Although there are culinary training programs within the Department of Corrections’ facilities, providing an opportunity for justice-involved people to obtain some training, many want to earn credentials.  In addition, prior to release into Level 4,  Clarissa worked with Briyana to learn soft skills – communication, time management, teamwork – all necessary skills needed for success in the restaurant industry.

The Delaware Restaurant Association’s Educational Foundation, HOPES’ sponsor in the First State, is working to secure funding needed to continue the pilot program that sunsets in December. Since the program’s inception three years ago, 200 people have been enrolled – not all in the hospitality industry. There are 47 people still connected, according to Raelynn Grogram, Senior Director of the DRA’s Educational Foundation; five of them are employed.

What’s next for Clarissa? “I want to do a TED talk about re-entry, about the criminal justice system, about the programs and opportunities. We’re in need of education for women, like the Food Bank and HOPES. Education is the key to life, survival, and change.”

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