Students, Grads Making Strides Toward Stability & Self-Empowerment in FareStart’s Food Pathways Program

March 15, 2023

Michael’s career path took a decidedly positive turn last summer, when he joined the first group of students welcomed back into our kitchens for in-person job training since the pandemic began.

For the first several weeks, training focused on empowerment and employment fundamentals, with four instructors giving each of the program’s seven students a lot of one-on-one time. Then students were placed in one of our three facilities, working with trainers and other staff to prepare meals and support our food security work.

Early on, Michael (he/him) voiced an interest in baking, so his instructors made it a priority to assign him muffins, cupcakes, cookies, and brownies. He learned how to adjust the fan speeds and steam levels in ovens, advanced skills that stood out when he tried out for the job he now has at Essential Baking.


More Training, More Support

Students in our new Food Pathways Program (an evolution of our former Adult Culinary Program) spend up to six months in job training—two months longer than before the pandemic.

They train up to 30 hours per week, Monday through Thursday, with Fridays set aside for appointments to access social services, health care, and other support on their path to personal stability. Before the pandemic, students trained full-time, five days a week which we learned didn’t always leave them with needed personal time to take care of their health and well-being.

FareStart has always supported adult students financially by covering costs for housing, food, transportation, and other basic needs. Now they earn money while they train, and we’re already seeing the positive impact it’s having on students’ strides toward stability and self-empowerment.

Other aspects of our training remain the same: our focus on people most impacted by poverty and homelessness, using food as a tool to transform lives, alleviating hunger in our community, and building a culture where students feel a sense of belonging and value. We’ll continue to meet students where they are and support them with whatever they need most, whether its housing, mental health counseling, substance use disorder treatment, or other whole-person care.

FareStart found Michael housing and paid his rent for six months after he was released from prison. That combined with his paychecks helped Michael buy a car, insure it, and get his license—all goals he set for himself and achieved more quickly than he expected at first. “That alleviated a lot of stress on my part.”


A Fresh Start

Michael worked hard to earn his spot in the Food Pathways Program, remaining infraction-free and steadily employed during his final months of incarceration. He felt an instant sense of belonging at FareStart. 

“They made me feel right at home,” Michael said. “They eliminated any anxiety I had about transitioning back into society. They were always there, always asking me how I felt, if I needed anything.” 

Eugene (he/him, who goes by Geno) also learned about FareStart during his final months in prison, where he worked as a kitchen manager. Every day, he oversaw 25 kitchen staff preparing lunch and dinner for 1,700 people. It was a demanding job, and he earned high praise for his deft multitasking and knack for motivating people to meet expectations. Those strengths are serving him well at FareStart.

“Geno’s excelling his way through the kitchen,” said Eric Klein, a production kitchen trainer. “He’s always looking out for his team. He anticipates the needs of others.”

Anytime instructors start teaching something new, Geno flips out a notepad and starts writing it all down. He’s attentive, asks smart questions, and responds positively to any advice he gets, in and out of the kitchen. Once he graduates, he’s hoping to land full-time, long-term employment at FareStart, where he feels seen and respected for his potential, with no judgement about the past he’s leaving behind.

“FareStart has given me a chance,” Geno said. “They see me as a person. They don’t see me as damaged goods. I have more respect for myself now. I just want to be a better person.”


Learn more about our Job Training & Employment Programs for youth and adults, how we plan to create more pathways out of poverty and a graduate who has come full circle, returning to FareStart as a staff member.