Congrats FoodWorks Class 23 Graduates - Maryland Food Bank
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Congrats FoodWorks Class 23 Graduates

On Friday, April 21, we celebrated the accomplishments of our 23rd graduating class from our culinary program FoodWorks. Eight graduates received ServSafe certification and job-readiness training. The ceremony was attended by family, friends, program partners and local officials.

As a man with a troubled past, Henry Jones decided to change his life by joining FoodWorks, the Maryland Food Bank’s workforce development program.

“All I’ve ever been doing in life is failing — you know starting things and quitting or not finishing them,” Jones said. “I was determined to finish this and I did it.”

Jones, 35, of Baltimore, was one of eight students to graduate as a member of the 23rd FoodWorks class on Friday.

The program, which is a collaborative effort between the Maryland Food Bank and the Community College of Baltimore County, provides low-income students with culinary training and ServSafe® certification over the course of 12 weeks. In addition to learning nutrition and menu planning in the classroom, the hands-on experience in the kitchen provides many students with valuable life skills.

For Jones, completing the course helped him develop a brighter outlook and a new attitude. He hopes to become a business owner someday.

“I came in here disrespectful — thinking I was going to fail,” he said. “And I was letting my life get in the way of my success. This class has helped me work on my productivity and gave me something to do instead of being out ripping and running all day. I’m starting my life over; this program here changed everything for me.”

Dreaming for the Future

Jones wasn’t the only student to graduate with a renewed outlook on life. Many of the graduates expressed how much the class changed their perceptions of themselves and their abilities, including Melissa Espinosa, 30, of Hyattsville. In the past, she struggled with self-confidence, but her ability to complete the program gave her the boost she needed to become a leader.

Throughout the program, students prepared about 25,000 meals that were distributed through the food bank’s network of partnering organizations. To cook such a high volume of food, the students were forced to work as a team to complete each day’s work. Within the first two weeks of class, Espinosa emerged as a leader, bringing everyone together to get the day’s tasks completed.

“Even though there are a lot of different personalities in a working environment like a kitchen, you have to look past that and look at the bigger picture,” Espinosa said. “While we were all here to learn, we were also here to help others. Something I reminded myself, and my classmates of, is we were working each day to help people who might be hungry or can’t put food on the table and it’s not a joke, it’s a serious issue.”

All of the students in this class have big dreams but are still extremely mindful of how to get the job done each day, said Emmanuel Robinson, the food bank’s executive chef and director of Food Service & Education.

“These students are visionaries,” he said. “They’re optimistic and they aspire to do so many things with their big-picture goals but they don’t mind putting in the work to get there. That’s extremely helpful when we have so many people going hungry in our state and a class willing to put forth the effort to get the job done.”

Being Prepared

According to graduate Mathew Townes, being able to develop new skills in a real-life working environment was one of the most valuable aspects of the program.

“I learned how to deal with curveballs,” he said. “And that makes all the difference because you have to be able to roll with the punches and know how to adapt; in a kitchen, not everything is going to go as planned or be predictable.”

Prior to joining the class, Townes hadn’t had much instruction or support with his career development. But with the help of FoodWorks, Townes, 21, of Baltimore, was able to focus on his interviewing skills and practice networking by doing cold introductions to vendors at an event in March.

The experience helped him land a full-time job as a cook at Guy Fieri’s Baltimore Kitchen + Bar at the Horseshoe Casino. Espinosa and Jones each had several job offers and are in the process of deciding which options were best for their careers.

Job placement is something Robinson and the food bank’s sous chef Rich Lewis proactively prepare students for. Recruiting chefs and business owners to get involved with the program by either guest lecturing, attending graduation, or hiring students helps with finding the right job for each student.

Chef Rehan Khan, owner of Umami Global Bistro, has hired past students and delivered the keynote speech during the graduation ceremony. He reiterated the value of hard work and perseverance by sharing his story with the graduates. Khan, a Pakistani immigrant, built his business from the ground up after he decided to quit a sales job.

“I must say, it was not an easy journey,” he said. “But when you face adversity, do not give up. If you work hard and you’re passionate about your goals, then keep working and you’ll get there.”

You can support programs like FoodWorks by donating online today.

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