Culinary training offers a new lease of life

December 16, 2019

When Henry Harmon accepted his certificate at the Food Bank of Delaware’s Milford Culinary School graduation on Dec. 10, he told those attending “It’s been one tough road for me.”  By most standards, this Milford resident was not exaggerating. Harmon had experienced homelessness and substance abuse.

At the podium, he thanked his 10-year-old daughter for inspiring him to turn his life around. He is also a single parent to two sons, age 5 years and 6 weeks.

“I’ve been 3 ½ years clean,” he said.

Harmon is very open about his battle with heroin addiction. “I got into drugs out of curiosity. I started with Percocet, and got hooked on heroin for four years. In February, 2016, I stopped completely,” he said. “I was sick and tired of how I was living, and I saw the disappointment on my daughter’s face.”

Although Harmon had worked as a certified mason, he wasn’t satisfied with that career choice. One day, he picked up a bulletin about The Culinary School at Brandywine Counseling Center. “I’ve always loved to cook,” he said. And when he showed the bulletin to his daughter, she encouraged him. “She told me ‘Daddy, you should do it. Do what you love, and you’ll be happy.’ ”

At the time, he was unemployed, but he took her advice, and she was in the audience when he graduated. Looking back, he has no regret on his decision to switch careers. “This class was perfect for me. I walked here (about 4 miles each way), and I had no shoes, just Adidas slides,” he said.

“This has been so great for me. Ruthann (Messick, Workforce Development Manager) is an amazing woman. I wish I could pay her back. She’s even gotten me involved in the Housing Alliance Delaware,” Harmon added. Housing Alliance Delaware is a non-profit agency dedicated to promote housing opportunities and to end homelessness.

While Harmon’s paid two-week work experience was at Longhorn Steakhouse, he is looking for a different niche in the food service industry, maybe in a hospital or nursing home setting. “I want to feed the masses,” he said.

The Food Bank of Delaware’s Culinary School is a 14-week program for unemployed, under employed and people with disabilities or in career transition. The 14-week program teaches basic and high-end kitchen skills, ServSafe® training and life skills. Students receive classroom and hands-on instruction, culminating in a two-week paid work experience.

And Harmon has been encouraging others to following his path at The Culinary School. “Things are so much better now. The Culinary School is a great opportunity, and Chef Tish (chef instructor) was with us 100 percent of the way,” he added.

Click here for more information about The Culinary School; applications are being accepted for the class starting in January at both the Milford and Newark sites.

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