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Cooking up Career Success   

Cooking up Career Success   

by Vickie Rydz, Grants Manager, Goodwill Industries of Southwest Florida

For many Southwest Floridians, the mantra, “Season is over!” refers to reduced traffic, shorter waiting lines at grocery stores and shops, and eating at our favorite restaurants without having to book weeks in advance for a table. However, as our northern visitors head home, some of our neighbors working in local restaurants face reduced hours, loss of income, and uncertainty about their future. Those cooking for and serving us can be most vulnerable to losing their jobs despite the food and hospitality industry ranking second in Florida after healthcare. Having the credentials to work in this industry can increase career opportunities.

How can we work together creatively to offer opportunities to people interested in working in the food industry that can lead to a successful career?  Dorothy Browning, Community Education Program Manager for Goodwill along with the Pine Manor Improvement Association has been addressing that question through a program called “Cooking up Career Success”.

This year, they are offering an enhanced culinary program in Pine Manor, an impoverished community in Fort Myers. The training takes place in the community’s fully equipped professional kitchen. An experienced culinary trainer leads participants in achieving a ServSafe® certificate, a credential required to work with food handling. Despite earning their certificates, some past graduates were still unsuccessful in gaining employment. This year’s program introduces a job coach to work with those who took the initiative to graduate from the course, but need additional help with the next steps to finding a job.  The coach works with the trainees from the outset by offering personal assistance to explore barriers to employment and develop a plan towards securing a job. The coach links the graduates with Goodwill employment coordinators to help develop a resume, work on interviewing skills, and identify appropriate placements in the community. Supports such as bus passes and professional clothing for interviews are also available.

Attending a recent graduation, we met Ashley, the program facilitator in her pink chef’s apron overseeing five graduates busy in the kitchen.  As the current culinary lead for the program, she knows the opportunities it offers.  Two years ago, as a single mother who lost her job, she enrolled in the culinary program. Upon graduation, she got a job at Cork and Barrel, a tapas restaurant.  The Chef who also assists with the program, Pyro Rodriguez was so impressed with Ashley’s performance during the class that he also hired her to assist him in staging catering events. Ashley currently works at Jack’s Farm to Fork at the Pink Shell.  Because of her success, she is a mentor and inspiration to the class participants.

Standing close to the kitchen, you can immediately sense the pride, determination, a bit of nervousness, and excitement as they prepare a three-course meal for 19 friends, family and guests. Only a week earlier, they were total strangers but by graduation, have become friends and a well-oiled machine, capable of planning the menu, preparing the food, plating an eye appealing style, and serving professionally.

Through Cooking up Career Success, we hope program participants will ultimately experience increased job security and greater options for career growth leading to financial stability and career mobility. For more information about Goodwill’s culinary program go to

This summer, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is spotlighting the nonprofit organizations funded through the 2017 competitive grant cycle.  We have asked our 2017 grantees to send us their stories.  The Foundation is pleased to partner with these change-makers. 

About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created over 400 philanthropic funds.  Thanks to them, last year the Foundation invested $5 million in grants and programs to the community.  With assets of $111 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $67 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan.  Based in Fort Myers, the Foundation has satellite offices located in Sanibel Island, LaBelle (Hendry County), and downtown Fort Myers.  For more information, visit or call 239-274-5900.








Southwest Florida Community Foundation
Southwest Florida Community Foundation

Our ambition is a more vibrant community that will continually address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties in Southwest Florida. We invite you to join our family and invest in the community with us!