On hold during COVID-19, FareStart students find jobs, purpose, hope

July 7, 2020

FareStart has helped over 60 students and graduates find employment with numerous employers in the Seattle area since COVID-19 put their training or previous jobs on hold. The steady paychecks are not only helping people meet their basic needs, they’re fueling a renewed sense of purpose, determination, and hope at a time of hardship and uncertainty.

“I am truly blessed to be able to work and contribute to my community in a positive way when so many people are unemployed,” says Phil, who got a job slinging and slicing dough on the production line at The Essential Baking Company

Phil was just two weeks shy of graduating from our Adult Culinary Program when the pandemic hit. Without access to a computer, he wrestled with online job applications, trying to fill them out on the only internet-connected device available to him: a TV shared with other residents of the group home where he lives.

“Looking for a job is challenging, but when you don’t have the technology or a means to fill out an application, it’s even more frustrating,” he says.

Phil’s social service specialist at FareStart stepped in, helped him update his resume and got him an interview at Essential Baking, which hired him in mid-May. It’s a demanding job, he’s learning a ton, and he’s grateful to be saving up toward his goal of moving out of transitional housing and into a studio or one-bedroom apartment. 

FareStart is covering housing costs for all on-hold students during the pandemic. And twice a week, we deliver three days’ worth of nutritious meals to many of our FareStart students and graduates. By lowering their monthly expenses, they’re able to make bigger strides toward financial stability.

No one knows what the foodservice and hospitality industry will look like on the other side of the pandemic. Early on, when restaurants were closing or scaling back to takeout and delivery only, foodservice openings were hard to come by. So FareStart employment coordinator Oriana Alvis cast a wider net searching for jobs. 

Sharing a steady stream of job leads, Oriana has helped many students and grads find jobs in janitorial, building maintenance, manufacturing, food processing, grocery stores, delivery services and other industries, in many cases through a new and emerging partnership with Volt Workforce Solutions

Volt recruiter and former FareStart social service specialist Maggie DeGroote have been impressed by the adaptability and poise that workers from FareStart have shown during a challenging time fraught with higher levels of stress and uncertainty.

“Oftentimes when you’ve been through a lot of trauma [as most FareStart students have], being flexible is really difficult. Students who have been through FareStart have shown they’re capable of dealing with change. They’re resilient,” says Maggie.

As we support students and graduates through this crisis, we’re focusing on teaching transferrable skills that all employers value: teamwork, taking and giving feedback, advocating for yourself and being flexible.

“There are so many skills our students hone working in the kitchen,” Oriana says. “Time management, organizational skills, following directions, being really precise following recipes. These are skills that serve our students well in other roles.”

In some cases, one job serves as a bridge to another. That’s how it panned out for Billy, a FareStart student whom Volt placed as a cleaning assistant at an Amazon distribution center for several weeks, before Essential Baking hired him for an assembly line position similar to Phil’s. 

“It’s all been a progressive journey,” Billy says. “Each step has prepared me for the next. I feel good now. I feel lucky, very grateful.”

More job opportunities have started to open up in the foodservice industry, now that King County has moved to Phase 2 of Washington’s Safe Start plan. “We’re starting to connect more students and graduates with job opportunities that align better with what they love doing: being surrounded by food and preparing beautiful and delicious dishes,” said Oriana.

Michael, a FareStart student worked as an Amazon cleaning attendant for several weeks, then got hired as a full-time prep cook at Stellar Pizza. Both jobs have helped him make significant progress toward saving up for his own place. Once he graduates from FareStart, Michael dreams of traveling and working as a cook at resorts. 

“FareStart has made such a huge difference as I get my life back in order — especially the focus on life skills,” Michael says. “It’s given me the ability to see who I am in any given situation and not be ashamed — to own who I am and move forward. The past doesn’t dictate your future. Your goals dictate your future.”