Homelessness isn’t just a state of being without a place to live, it often means isolation, loss of family and friends and trauma. People experiencing homelessness or poverty can become stuck in survival mode and things like self-care or tomorrow get set on the back burner. Getting back to a place where they can think about doing more than just surviving, but to thriving takes opportunity, optimism, tools to cope with issues and emotions, a ton of personal work and a healthy level of trust. At FareStart, our social service specialists, working with the chef trainers and instructors, help our students check all the boxes.
The specialist is a coach and advocate for our Adult Culinary students. They have a wide variety of responsibilities that are tailored for each student, but they all do one thing very well – support our students on their journey with encouragement, high expectations and advocacy.
Specialists have a caseload of up to 15 students at a time and they work with the students to come up with individualized plans on how to best support their success. Some of the plans could include access to healthcare, addiction services, mental health support, getting an ID and other documents they need to be able to work, bus tickets, financial planning and more. We take a holistic approach because everything is connected. If a student is hungry, they can’t learn.
Beyond the material support though, the specialist is an emotional and professional guide for students. Working closely with the chef trainers, life skills instructors and other staff members, the specialist often has insight into a student’s challenges or issues that the trainers or other staff might be unaware of or have missed. They help students navigate the structure of FareStart and help begin to organize and structure their lives outside of FareStart.
“I live with the past every day, but I didn’t let it define me,” Mark, an Adult Culinary graduate said. “I forged a new future for myself and I stayed true to my values. FareStart showed me that there is a better life if you put in the work.”
We encourage the students to find a professional mentor in the foodservice industry as one method of forming a support structure outside of FareStart's four walls. Oftentimes it will be a chef trainer that they’ve made a connection with and sometimes it is a Guest Chef from our Guest Chef Nights.
We want them to succeed and we offer support up to a year after graduation, but we won't turn away a graduate who needs to bounce ideas off of someone either.
“I didn’t know how much I had to learn,” Linda, an Adult Culinary graduate said. “But you’ve all made an imprint on me. I’ve never seen such an open welcoming place. It’s not just an organization, it’s a living, breathing organism. I’ve allowed myself to believe now.”