Camillus House’s culinary training program resists pandemic

With the aim of helping Miami’s homeless people escape the street life and succeed on their own, Camillus House and Miami Dade College have formed a cook training program at Camillus House.

The training program began in January 2018, and by June of the same year, three classes had completed their training. Some went to work at Marlins Stadium, Marriott Biscayne Bay, Levy’s Restaurants and Fiola in Coral Gables.

Last year, the program had graduated seven classes – about 90 graduates in total – with a placement rate of over 70%.

Then came the pandemic.

Knowing full well that the placement would be more difficult, Hilda Fernandez, Managing Director of Camillus House, felt it was important that the program continue.

“There is nothing that makes my day more enjoyable than seeing these students walking around the Camillus House campus with a look of pride on their faces,” says Fernandez. “Working in a kitchen takes a lot of discipline, which is great for these customers. ”

Teaching during a pandemic required drastic changes in the way the program would operate.

Miami Dade College’s Hospitality Institute normally offered training five days a week during the seven-week program, with students spending mornings in class and afternoons working in the kitchen.

COVID-19 has changed the way classes are handled. Now, classes are offered virtually four days a week with one day of hands-on culinary training at the Miami Culinary Institute at the Wolfson Campus Miami-Dade downtown.

Despite the changes, students are learning the cooking skills that will allow them to land a job. “They learn how to bone a chicken, how to make all the sauces, to learn about the different cuts of beef and how to handle food safely, which is very important,” says Fernandez.

They also learn invaluable lessons that can take them beyond the culinary world.

“We also integrate life skills and employability skills into training, as they are essential for success both in life and for finding future employment,” says Lauren Drosdowech, head of the Hospitality Institute.

The program has been a positive experience for recent graduate Ryan Walsh.

“Being hands-on at the Miami Culinary Institute was the highlight of each week. The facility was top of the line, it was an incredible experience, ”he says.

Because the restaurant industry is such a competitive market, it offers endless employment opportunities, but without training or a stable work history, it is difficult for newcomers to have the chance to prove their worth. The Camillus program gives participants a head start in a competitive market.

“The Certificate of Completion and the Food Safety Certification that students receive from Miami Dade College put them in a better position to find employment,” Fernandez said.

Taking it a step further, graduates have the option of applying their certificate to an associate’s degree at Miami Dade College. “We help any student who wishes to continue their education to gain admission into college degree programs,” says Shelly Fano, chair of the college’s hospitality management degree program.

The graduation ceremony for the Fall 2020 class was held virtually at the end of October. While there were no in-person hugs or greetings, the instructors and staff at the Hospitality Institute beamed with pride throughout the ceremonies. While the future is uncertain, there is a sense of accomplishment.

“It’s been a great partnership with Miami Dade College – they’ve been amazing,” Fernandez said.

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