Description of the practice:

Supporting people with disabilities to work in jobs in the community is a high priority at the Arc of the Bay in Lynn Haven, Florida. Many individuals who participate in services at the Arc of the Bay are interested in the culinary industry. However, when adults attempted to access existing culinary training programs in their community, they frequently experienced barriers, such as lacking a Graduation Equivalency Diploma (GED), high school diploma, or driver’s license. To address these barriers, the Arc of the Bay worked to develop a high-quality culinary training program that would operate without those requirements.

In July of 2019, the ARC of the Bay began a partnership with Gulf Coast CareerSource and Gulf Coast State College to explore the needs of the community’s employers and the types of culinary training and certifications those employers required. They created an advisory board to oversee the development of the program and hired a team of instructors led by a professional chef and alumnus of the Gulf Coast State College culinary program. The Culinary Institute program offers training and certification to people seeking either full- or part-time employment.

The Culinary Institute offers a combination of classroom and hands-on instruction in a commercial-grade kitchen on “food preparation, general procedures, core principles, technical skills, and the how’s and why’s of cooking and baking.” Vocational Rehabilitation can refer students into the program. The program runs three times a year and intentionally maintains a class size of six students. The small class size ensures that students get the time and attention they need and that instructors can create lesson plans to fit each student’s employment goals. Students who successfully graduate from the program receive their ServSafe certification, qualifying them to work in commercial kitchen settings.

To date, the Culinary Institute has conducted seven cohorts and graduated 41 students. Twenty-five alumnae have been hired into positions at a variety of businesses throughout the counties served by Arc of the Bay, including Sims Veterans Home, Chartwells Food Service, Bay District Schools, Popeyes, Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center, and Zaxby’s.

Lessons Learned:

Over time, the Culinary Institute has expanded and created new employment opportunities. The program now manages the food court at Gulf Coast State College, a café in their student union, and a café in the college’s advanced technology center. There are plans to expand to more sites, including a food truck.

Students see that their career preparation experiences within the context of real-time work transition directly into applying their skills in an integrated employment setting. From day one, students’ gradually take on tasks at the cafés, such as filling orders and preparing food. The employment staff from the Arc of the Bay support students as needed.

Graduates can transition directly into employment at another business or become employed directly by the Culinary Institute. Many alumnae choose to remain at the cafés for six months to a year to build their resume and then transition to a higher-level job at another employer. Currently, two graduates have advanced their careers and are managing some of the cafés’ operations.

Satisfaction with the program is high. Alumnae and their families feel confident in their skills and their opportunities for success, while employers are happy to have access to a qualified, experienced, and credentialed workforce that is excited to work in the culinary industry.

For more information, contact:

Ron Sharpe
Executive Director Arc of the Bay