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Cooking Up Change

Cooking Up Change

by Dr. Debra Mathinos, The Heights Foundation

Fifty-six year old Roderick Lee has a past he isn’t proud of, but he’s not shy about saying so.  Since 2010 he has been unemployed.  Despite his efforts to find a job, he had to rely on his family for food and shelter during that time.

In 2015 he enrolled in The Heights Center’s Culinary Arts Job Training Program with the goal of gaining the skills to help him find a job in the food service industry.   The 14-week program was created to address the issue of unemployment and underemployment and is designed to develop job-specific technical skills as well as providing support services and experiences to address barriers to success.  These barriers include learning challenges, minimal academic skills, limited English Proficiency, transportation and scheduling concerns.  The program is made possible by a grant from the Southwest Florida Community Foundation as a part of the Community Foundation’s 2015/16 Community Impact Grants.

Toward the end of Roderick’s training, our students visited Bailey’s General Store on Sanibel and met with co-owner Richard Johnson. Roderick was hired on the spot. His current responsibilities include frying chicken and washing dishes.

“Roderick is an example of how well this training and preparation can work for employers.  Rod came to us with a can do attitude and his customer service attitude already tuned up and ready for work,” said Johnson.  “With over 100 positions throughout our businesses we are always looking for quality people to work with us.  We are in the customer service business and our staff needs to be comfortable in that environment.  Working with The Heights Center’s Culinary Arts Job Training program we find that potential staff members understand what is needed and are trained to provide that level of service and work ethic from the beginning.”

“The Culinary program gave me a second chance to get it right,” said Roderick.  “I needed someone to believe in me and both The Heights Center and Bailey’s did that.  The program not only helped me gain confidence in myself and find fulfilling employment, it has had a ripple effect on my children and family and inspired me to help others.”

The program that originated at The Heights Center has recently expanded to include the Grace Church campuses in Cape Coral and Fort Myers.  The three locations across Lee County offer the training at varying times which maximizes the number of unemployed and underemployed individuals who can participate. Additionally, training at one site is devoted to a program specifically designed for individuals who experience learning challenges and need an appropriately modified programmatic approach. This site is operated as a component of Grace Church’s Exceptional Entrepreneurs Program.

To date 78 individuals have completed the 14-week programs and 95% are currently employed.

Individuals interested in participating in the culinary training program and restaurants interested in partnering with us can contact me at (239) 482-7706 or [email protected].

This summer, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is spotlighting the nonprofit organizations funded through the 2016 competitive grant cycle.  We have asked our 2016 grantees to send us their stories.  The Foundation is pleased to partner with these change-makers.

About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation

As leaders, conveners, grant makers and concierges of philanthropy, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is a foundation built on community leadership with an inspired history of fostering regional change for the common good in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Community Foundation, founded in 1976, connects donors and their philanthropic aspirations with evolving community needs. With assets of more than $93 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $63 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. Last year, it granted more than $3.2 million to nonprofit organizations supporting education, animal welfare, arts, healthcare and human services, as well as provided regional community impact grants and scholarship grants.



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!