Students Are Back Onsite: In-Person Job Training Returns

August 25, 2022

July 11, 2022, will go down as a big day in FareStart’s history. After exactly 28 months and eight days without students onsite due to the pandemic, we welcomed back students for in-person training.

It took many months of preparation, but staff was full of joy and excitement when the first seven in-person adult students walked through FareStart’s doors motivated to learn.

“The day we welcomed students back into our kitchens and facilities, I was instantly reminded of why I was called to FareStart all those years ago. We could not have asked for a greater group of individuals to participate in the launch of our new program. My deepest gratitude to all the students for being a constant reminder of our transformational mission,” said Scott Iverson, FareStart’s Workforce Development Program Supervisor.

The new students began their training by learning empowerment and employment fundamentals at our Pacific Tower location in Beacon Hill. They were then placed in one of our three facilities working side by side with our trainers and other staff to prepare meals and support our food security work. Every eight weeks, new students will join them in a new cohort.

Online Training Continues

Shortly after the pandemic began, FareStart’s job training and employment programs started operating virtually to help keep students healthy. We supported students by delivering laptops and training materials and providing them with internet access. Since that time, nearly 200 adults have enrolled into our adult program, more than 140 students graduated, and more than 230 job placements were facilitated across a variety of industries.

The overall success of virtual programming was not a foregone conclusion. Staff worked hard to create an entirely new curriculum, learning the technology and online teaching skills along the way. We garnered feedback from students and made modifications as necessary to make the online experience impactful and positive for students. Incredibly, the same magic that has happened over FareStart’s decades of work emerged over Zoom. We created a supportive online community giving students meaningful empowerment and employment skills needed to get and keep a job. We also provided a “power team” of people who, though they may not have met in person, were solidly in the students’ corner. For those experiencing homelessness, poverty, substance use disorder, trauma and other barriers to employment on top of the isolation and stress of the pandemic, online training became a lifeline.

FareStart Food Pathways Program

Rebuilding in-person training gave us an opportunity to continue to evolve our programming to better support students and the larger community. Our end goal is for individuals to experience personal stability and economic mobility and truly thrive. To do that, the FareStart Programs team, headed by our new Chief Program Officer, Carlin Llorente, and Director of Training Programs, JoAnn Bowditch, created a new program called the FareStart Food Pathways Program that will create training and employment pathways that can be built upon over many years.

The new program is more person-centered, adaptable and flexible, less “one-size-fits-all.” Students benefit when they are empowered to achieve their self-identified career goals. As we relaunch in-person programming, students will train in Meal Production to support our hunger relief and food security work, learning kitchen skills including food preparation, production and packaging. This training will prepare them for jobs in the food service industry including catering, grocery stores and high-yield food production facilities. Students will continue to learn other workplace skills needed to be successful on the job including teamwork, communications and reliability.

Eventually, students will be able to choose other training pathways or tracks depending on their individual goals. For example, when FareStart reopens its restaurant space, we will likely add a pathway for students interested in culinary careers. We are also exploring additional training pathways with external partners.

Other Changes

In-person training is longer. The Meal Production pathway is up to six months in total, instead of our former sixteen-week program. This extended on-the-job training and support will better enable students to hone their skills and demonstrate proficiency in their pathway that promotes longer-term employment. As we add new training pathways, program length may vary.

Students will train up to 30 hours a week, Mondays through Thursdays. Prior to the pandemic, students trained full-time for five days a week. On Fridays, students will access social services, counseling, doctor appointments and other critical support that help provide personal stability. As they get closer to graduation, they will also use this time to conduct interviews and find jobs.

Students will be paid a wage of $20 an hour while they learn. Prior to the pandemic adult students did not receive financial support beyond the wraparound services that were provided (paid housing, transportation, counseling, gift cards for basics, etc.). Paid training is the path forward for all FareStart students. Earning a wage is empowering and enables students to become more stable sooner.

Online learning will still have a place in our program offerings. The program has proven to be a success. With it, we can erase the barrier of distance and reach more parents with children and individuals with physical limitations. The six-and-a-half-week Online Learning Program will enroll a range of students who might not otherwise be able to access FareStart’s opportunities. Students will continue to receive wraparound services and job placement assistance in a variety of different types of jobs.

Core Aspects of the Training Remain the Same

Food remains the center of what we do, be it in nourishing communities through improved food security, or training for jobs in food-based careers.

Our students. We are here to support people furthest from opportunity who have significant barriers to employment. Our students come from backgrounds of poverty, homelessness, incarceration, substance use disorder and mental health challenges. All are seeking to heal from their trauma and write their new story, learning that their past informs but does not dictate their future.

Wraparound support services. Each student will continue to benefit from individualized case management, access to counseling and sobriety support, housing, clothing, hygiene and other supplies, and meals – all the support needed to focus on training, as we have done over the decades.

Youth Programming

FareStart’s Barista & Customer Service Program will continue training young people virtually this summer until we have everything in place for students to return to in-person training. We anticipate this beginning to happen later this year at the FareStart Café located in South Lake Union. We’re working with our program partners including Y Social Impact Center and Seattle Public Schools using all we’ve learned in the past two years to make positive changes for a more student-centered, trauma-informed approach to training that will enable youth and young adults to obtain jobs or advance their education. We will keep you updated as it happens.

And of course, the kinds of personal transformations that we’ve consistently seen happen for individuals who do the work to start anew at FareStart will also continue. Our mission and values provide a rock-solid foundation as we work toward our larger vision, that every individual has the opportunity to thrive in an equitable and just world.

As FareStart enters its 30th year, this is just the beginning of what we know will be a new era of increasingly impactful, student-centered programming. As Carlin says, “it’s amazing what can happen when you meet people where they are, show them that there’s a way forward and support them in walking that path.”

We invite you to reach out with questions as we go forward. You can engage with FareStart in various ways this fall, including tours, small events, volunteer opportunities, donating or hiring graduates, as well as our Gala Auction on November 6. In the meantime, please follow us online or reach out with questions to