“Cooking up a career” sets graduates up for success
By Molly McCarthy, Contributing writer
Marlborough – Dianna Allen, 21, of Framingham, had been out of jail and living in a shelter for about a month when she was into a new program, “Cooking up a Career.” Now she is looking forward to starting a career in management at a local restaurant.
“Cooking up a Career” is a free culinary certification program for out-of-school youths between the ages of 17 and 21. It provides training in work readiness, occupational training, and paid internships in the hospitality industry. The program is funded by the Partnership for a Skilled Workforce, Inc., of Marlborough and is a collaborative effort through Employment Options, Inc., The Bridge of Central Massachusetts, and Quinsigamond Community College.
While working with the South Middlesex Opportunity Council, Allen was asked what she wanted to do with her life. “I told them I like to cook and want to open up my own business,” she said.
She interviewed at Employment Options and was accepted into the program. Allen remembers thinking the program would be difficult before she started.
“I didn’t think I would remember all of the things that I already knew, [but] it just came right back to me and I was rolling with everything,” she said.
After graduation, staff at Employment Options reviewed the resume and cover letter Allen had written and she then set off job hunting. Less than two weeks after graduation, Allen landed a job at Chipotle Mexican Grill. She is now preparing to go through the company’s management training program. Her hard work combined with the guidance and professional skills she received through the program has changed her life dramatically, she said.
“It’s a super thumbs-up. I have my own apartment. I’ve been out of jail for six months and I have accomplished a lot more than I thought I would. So, right now I’m just on top of the world,” she said.
Allen’s general manager also had positive feedback regarding her work.
“He said they want the ‘Diannas’ of the world – hard workers and well-trained,” said Suzanne Garcia, program manager at Employment Options, Inc.
Allen believes others should take advantage of the unique program.
“You just have to do it,” she urged. “You have to give it a try. You can’t always second guess everything. You just have to be like I need this right now – I’ll do it. ‘Cause you never know, you may like it and you may benefit from it more than you thought you would in the beginning.”
When asked about the people she met at Employment Options, she said, “They are very helpful. If you have any problem or situation that they can help you with, they will be right there with no problem.”
After completing the six-month program, graduates will have earned four college credits, certification in Safeserv Food Safety and Food Production Manager and Food Equipment and Safety. GED and ESL tutoring is also offered through the program. Transportation to and from Employment Options, where the training is held, is provided for youths in Marlborough, Hudson and Framingham. Transportation assistance is also provided for youths living in other areas within the Metrowest area. Graduates are given assistance in buying interview clothing and 12 months of continued support.
To be eligible for the program a youth must be between 17 and 21, be out of school (not necessarily graduated), meet income criteria, and must possess one barrier to employment. For more information call 508-485-5051. The deadline for the November “Cooking up a Career” class is Oct. 10.
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