How did the idea for this project originate?
A: CookWell, and the Lawrenceville Job-Training Partnership (LJTP), came to be as a result of the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville’s strategic planning process in 2014-17.
Q: Why choose training in the culinary arts? Why not other employment areas?
A: There was a critical shortage of workers in the food service sector in Mercer County, as in much of the country. Moreover, PCOL has access to food service resources, such as a commercial kitchen, teachers from nearby Mercer County Community College, and local restaurants willing to help in the training. LJTP hopes to expand into other areas of workforce development in the future.
Q: Where and when did the job training take place?
A: The CookWell program ran two 14-week cycles per year (spring and fall). The cycle began with a two-week “boot camp” at First Presbyterian Church in Trenton, where trainees received life skills, culinary and ServSafe instruction. Over the following 12 weeks, participants earned money through apprenticeships and receive continuing instruction for life skills and culinary training.
Q: How many trainees were there, and how did they have a means to live?
A: We began our initial training period (October – January 2018/19) with three trainees, to establish proof of concept and to gain a track record, but subsequent cycles included a minimum of four trainees. The training schedule was designed to allow participants to gain additional experience through paid employment. CookWell also provides trainees with a small stipend during the first two weeks and a monthly bus pass.
Q: How were the participants selected?
A: CookWell worked with experienced partners like the New Jersey Association of Corrections and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of New Jersey to steer applicants toward the program. Our application process was designed to select those peope who had the most promise of succeeding in the program.
Q: How was the program funded?
A: Seed funding came from sources related to the Presbyterian Church (USA). The Session (the governing body) of the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville granted initial funding from one of its endowments, the Lower Fund, whose guidelines state that funds are to be used to “help fulfill individual, local and global needs of humanity which may not otherwise be fully met through established channels….” This funding is meant for “innovative and non-conventional uses.” LJTP also received a grant from the Synod of the Northeast for $20,000. LJTP continues to secure funding from grants and individuals. LJTP, a 501(c)(3) organization, is independent from the church, and contributions are fully tax deductible.