Na’im Johnson had a plan – a business plan, in fact. He planned to leave the construction field and create his own catering business. In order to achieve that goal, he needed to get his ServSafe® certification, a professional requirement in the food service industry.
“I did my research,” said the 41-year-old former Wilmington resident. He learned that he could earn the certification and get workforce training at the Food Bank of Delaware’s Culinary School. He applied and was accepted into a class that started in January in Newark.
The Culinary School – with locations in Newark and Milford – is a 14-week program that includes both classroom and hands-on professional culinary instruction. During the final two weeks, students are placed in a paid internship, and frequently that experience results in the student becoming employed in a food service business.
After Johnson started in school, he encountered some personal problems, but he did not let those obstacles deter him. He moved downstate in order to co-parent his daughter, then connected with the Food Bank’s Milford Culinary School. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools as well as the construction and food service portions of the state’s economy.
“I reached out, and I asked for help,” he said, and what he received exceeded his expectations. He needed housing assistance, yet he focused on completing his culinary training.
Workforce Training Program Manager Ruthann Messick says Johnson’s situation is not uncommon. “Almost every class has somebody who has a housing need, so I reach out to agencies, like Housing Alliance Delaware, to help students,” she said.
In Johnson’s case, Messick connected to Housing Alliance Delaware and was able to find temporary housing in Harrington. Then through another agency, Rapid Rehousing, Johnson was able to relocate to a boarding house in Delaware where is able to rent for six months until he finds permanent housing with support from the agency.
“Ruthann is awesome. She went over and beyond to help me. It feels good to have my own place, and that’s due to her and the Food Bank. I reached out for help, and she got networking. I’m really in awe,” he said.
“All of this came at the right time. I got my certification – I passed the test, and now I’m finishing the culinary part, our final project. I’m cooking for the Food Bank staff,” he added. “Cooking is my passion. I eat in a health-conscious way, and I cook healthy for the staff.”
Messick explained that the on-site food preparation, including meals delivered to downstate homeless residents through a state contract, are similar to an internship. Students are paid for their work-experience time.
Meanwhile, Johnson reiterated that his positive experiences at the Food Bank exceeded any hopes. “Doors are opening for me, way more than what I expected. Things are working out. I’m happy, and I’m blessed, and I love it. I’m going to keep pushing forward.”
Click here to learn more about The Culinary School and workforce development opportunities at the Food Bank of Delaware.