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Redstone, Goodwill create culinary program for students

| Thursday, July 4, 2013, 8:56 p.m.

Redstone Highlands and Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania have partnered on a pilot Culinary Pathway Program.

The program, driven from its Transition WORKS Program with Goodwill, is designed to provide students with specific skills needed to be a cook in the marketplace. Transition WORKS services high school youth with disabilities ages 16-21 and provides workforce-readiness training.

“We're piloting this because we believe we can set up other pathways on very specific skills needed for careers. Our intent is to work with employers in Westmoreland County and if we can't use them, can another employer in Westmoreland County,” said Jim Hodge, vice president of human resources at Redstone. “We want our student to be certified and master the skills necessary and be employed in that career.”

At the end of the training program, students will earn a certificate and be eligible to apply for a position at Redstone Highlands dining services. Students are only eligible if they are already in Transition WORKS and recommended by their mentor. They also need to complete an entrance competency quiz.

The length of the curriculum will depend on the varying needs of the student. Each student will be trained in safety, sanitation, ServSafe techniques and cooking. Linda Giannopoulos, instructor and transition specialist, said the students will also learn about food allergies, dietary needs, contamination and preparation of gluten-free dishes.

“It made sense to start in the culinary program because the certifications are already in place,” said Holly Opatick, director of transition services for Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania. “We thought it was a nice match.”

The program works with students with various disabilities, ranging from physical disabilities to autism to learning issues. Some disabilities are severe, while others are very mild. Opatick would like to see the program expand its services to work with students with disabilities in all of Westmoreland County.

She believes this program serves as an extra boost to walk into an entry-level job. One of the ways it does that is by partnering the student with a mentor. Jane Moore, a cook at Redstone for more than five years, will serve as the mentor for the pilot program.

Moore welcomed the opportunity to work with Josh Altman, 19, the only student in the pilot program at the Greensburg campus of Redstone.

“I've always had a lifelong dream of working with students with disabilities. I want to help them achieve all their hopes and dreams. After meeting Josh, I knew this would be a learning experience for both of us to become better and learn from each other,” Moore said at a kick-off luncheon last week.

For Altman, this is an opportunity to advance his career as a cook and hopefully land a job at Redstone.

“I like learning new techniques and advancing on what I already know,” said the Hempfield resident whose favorite dish to make is tuna casserole. “It's a challenge but one I am willing to take on.”

Michele Stewardson is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.