Reflection on the difficulties facing trainees has led us to an exciting change of direction in our approach. As of October 2020 we are actively planning a catering operation that would feed clients of halfway houses and training centers run by the NJ Association on Correction.

We plan to rent a commercial kitchen, hire a chef and bring in several returning citizens as paid trainees. One of our biggest challenges has been the issue of participants who drop out of CookWell owing to difficult personal circumstances; dropping out represents a lost opportunity—for both the participant and the program’s stakeholders.  

In our redesigned curriculum, should a trainee drop out, another trainee will immediately be rotated in as a replacement. Trainees will still receive culinary and “life” skills, but there will be a business component added to the learning curve. The curriculum will be staged, with trainees starting as dishwashers and moving up the ladder through kitchen prep and eventually sous-chef status. Pay will be scaled to achievement. Depending on a trainee’s level and demonstrated interest in a culinary career, he or she could earn the opportunity to receive further training with apprenticeships in restaurants. This new model retains the strengths of our original one, while giving us enhanced flexibility in serving program participants.

As of October, we are working hard to secure sufficient funding to inaugurate the new program early in 2021. We are also carefully monitoring developments related to the anticipated release of several thousand inmates from New Jersey prisons starting in November. We’ll continue to provide more details as plans develop.