Germantown food service training program helps people get jobs

Before she found the Germantown Restoration CDC’s food service training program, Chatel Royster was struggling. This time last year, Royster was a victim of the poor economy. After getting laid off from her job at Progressive Financial, the single mother found herself wondering how she would care for her 5-year-old son.

“I was really scared about what would happen,” Royster said. “It was really hard. It was difficult to find childcare to even look for a job.”

After becoming unemployed, Royster was forced to give up her apartment and move in with her sister. From there, she struggled for a few months to find full-time employment, working small catering gigs and hair styling jobs in the meantime.

“You can’t live off of public assistance. I just did what I could do and never stopped looking for something better,” Royster said.

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Her constant search is what finally brought her to the Germantown Restoration CDC’s free, 12-week food service training program. The program, based at 6631 Germantown Ave., teaches participants technical culinary skills and coaches them on the professional skills needed to get a job.

Within just two months after her official graduation from the program, Royster successfully found a new job. She showed off her new skills to Weavers Way, which quickly offered Royster a job in its meat department.

“I wanted to work there so bad, and I’m so happy that they actually called me back. I think I jumped on my bed when I got the call,” Royster said.

Royster credits the training program for helping her ditch her unemployment status. She recently visited the food-service training classroom and instructed one of the current participants on how to smash a garlic clove.

“These people will actually go with you to the job, talk to the manager and help you get the interview,” Royster said. “There were days where I’d have to go on interviews and didn’t have anyone to watch my son, and I’d bring him here, and they’d watch him.”

Germantown Restoration CDC Administrator Dana Garnett emphasized that the most important requirement coming into the food service training program is the desire to work.

“Dana really puts herself out there and wears her heart on her sleeve. You can tell she really wants these people to succeed,” said David Coleman, the janitor at the CDC who noted he is also an example of welfare-to-work hires by the organization.

Launched in 2009, the food service training program has had about 100 participants graduate thus far. Funding for the program comes from a state block grant and monies from the Philadelphia Workforce Development Corp.

The food-training program aims to educate participants so that they can find jobs. There are eight students enrolled in the current session. Five weeks in, four of them have already found jobs.

Students who complete the program are often employed in or near Germantown, allowing them to service the community where they were trained.

“It was a good experience,” said recent graduate Sade Yates, who has been working at the Fresh Grocer at Chew and Wister streets since she finished the training program in June. “Even if it seems hard, they taught me to just keep going at it.”

Yates said she plans on continuing her path into the culinary world and has dreams of one day being on a TV show such as Top Chef.

“So many jobs you just work and you don’t see the benefit of it, but not here,” said Dana Cherry, the data specialist for the program. “Here you see the whole cycle, and it’s really uplifting. I truly enjoy the fact that someone can come in here and within 12 weeks, we’re on the path to finding that person a job.”

Philadelphia Neighborhoods is a publication of Temple University’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.

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