By Gwen Guerke, Communications Coordinator
Thanks to the Food Bank of Delaware’s Culinary School program and Delaware WONDER, Nitza Valderrama has a job she loves and a future that’s as bright as she can dream of.
This Milford resident learned about the job readiness program through her social worker at the Health and Social Services center. The employment and training program called Delaware WONDER (Work Opportunity Networks to Develop Employment Readiness) is led by Delaware Health and Social Services Division of Social Services (DHSS), which administers the SNAP Program in Delaware. It offers targeted career tracks in construction, culinary arts, and manufacturing and broad-based job placement.
Just a few months ago, Nitza was working in the chicken processing industry, but she was seeking something different. Her social worker told her about Delaware WONDER.
In October, she started with her class at the Food Bank’s Milford branch.
“I love it here. I wish I didn’t have to leave,” she said referring to her upcoming graduation on Jan. 31.
In addition to the hands-on instruction in both the kitchen and the classroom, Nitza almost immediately connected to a job she loves.
“I work at Dover Downs in the banquets kitchen,” she said.
But for this student – and others – the school offers so much more.
“Chef Tish (Nitza’s chef/ instructor) has become so important to me. She teaches me so much. And they work with my work schedule here. You don’t get that at so many places,” said Nitza.
Chef Tish praised Nitza’s work ethic.
“If she wants something, she puts everything into it,” she said.
Although Nitza arrived at the Culinary School with a personal love of cooking, she quickly discovered there’s so much more to cooking in a commercial setting.
”When I got here, I had to learn how to read for the test and how to read a recipe. I knew how to cook already,” she added.
“I also had to learn knife skills and how to read recipes, follow a recipe.”
Nitza’s enthusiasm for the Food Bank’s Culinary School spills over into her personal life.
“This has been so helpful. I now prepare food for a lot of people, a thousand people. I have told a lot of people of this culinary arts class. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s not supposed to be easy. I say, ‘If I’m going to make it, you will too.’,” she said.
“I tell them life is not easy. It’s not supposed to be, but keep your head up, and do your best.”
As for the future, Nitza dreams of having her own restaurant, one that features cuisine from her native Puerto Rico.
“This is a big opportunity. I have met people who make me feel like family, and I’m so thankful. Here you get uniforms, you get food, and you get help. I was here not even a month, and I got a job. That’s incredible. I’m doing something I love, and I have a big future.”
For more information on the Food Bank of Delaware’s Culinary School, click here.