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Providence Health & Services chefs cook up way to mentor students

September 15, 2015

By BETSY TAYLOR

Greeting customers, taking an order and working a register; learning cooking techniques; talking respectfully and precisely in a busy kitchen; fixing a balanced meal. Those are just some of the skills culinary students say they've learned from working side by side with professional chefs from Providence Health & Services in the Clackamas County region in Oregon.


Robert Shorey, manager of food production at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, Ore., teaches student Meaghan Wilkinson how to make meringue cookies in the Providence Advanced Training in Hospitality program. The chefs volunteer to give students the basic skills they'll need to work in a food services profession.

The chefs volunteer as instructors in a program that gives students the foundational knowledge and techniques they need related to nutrition, food preparation, presentation and customer service. A youth program coordinator from an educational consortium also teaches them how to communicate with co-workers and the public; how to collaborate with others in the workplace; and how to be a responsible employee who shows up on time, treats others with respect and follows through on commitments.

The culinary education is called the Providence Advanced Training in Hospitality program. It has been offered twice beginning in 2013 by the Clackamas Career and Technical Education Consortium, made up of schools and community partners working together on career and technical programs in the northwest Oregon county.

Kas Logan, senior manager of culinary operations for Providence Health & Services' Oregon region, said Providence Health & Services' executive chefs wanted a way to assist in the communities where they work. She previously had trained young people in culinary skills through a different program, and she proposed the Providence chefs volunteer to train young people for work in professional kitchens, cafés or coffeehouses. "We designed the program to equip the youth with entry-level food service skills," said Logan, who assisted in the development of the training.

Six executive chefs and four other Providence employees, including registered dietitians and retail managers, have volunteered in the Providence hospitality training program.

School and youth counselors in Clackamas County let young people know the culinary training program is an option, and students enroll through the consortium. Some of the students in the program have graduated high school; others have not.

In the five-month training program, students and instructors meet, usually one weekend day a month at a Providence office park in Portland, Ore., with a large kitchen that supports a café during the work week. In addition to customer service skills and nutrition education, students learn safe food handling techniques and food and beverage preparation including barista skills. In conjunction with the program, they get training to become state certified on safe food handling practices. (Not all students pass the exam to earn the certification, Logan said.) To complete the program, participants are required to finish a 60-hour internship with a Providence food service or at another food service-related business.

Together, the students prepare a catered meal for about 75 to 100 community members at the end of the program. Seventeen students graduated from the program in 2014, and 14 graduated this year.

Providence said 10 of its employees, including the six chefs, have donated a total of 425 hours to the program. Providence's nutrition services department donates the space and the supplies needed for the training and gives each young person who completes the program a chef's jacket embroidered with his or her name, Logan said.

Logan said as the students progress, they often appear to become more self-confident. "It's wonderful watching them grow. You get to watch them blossom as they gain a skill."

Two 18-year-old graduates of the program, Astrid Bloodgood of Milwaukie, Ore., and Rachelle Warhurst of Oregon City, Ore., were among those hired by Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland after they graduated from the culinary program. Warhurst said she earned her GED while taking part in the training. She works as a food service assistant at a café on the hospital campus. Bloodgood, who graduated from high school before beginning the culinary program, works at the café in the hospital. "It's a lovely place to work," Bloodgood said, though she really enjoys coffee shop culture and can see herself one day becoming "a hipster barista."

Bloodgood said of the Providence Health & Services chef instructors, "Every single one of those chefs cared for us. They didn't have to work weekends; they didn't have to volunteer, and they did anyway. Every time I walked in, I felt they wanted me to succeed and that really made a difference."

Logan said students learn differently. Some are skilled when they begin; some don't know how to follow a recipe or to size it up to feed a crowd. Chefs pay attention to the different ways students learn, whether by having something explained or by watching or trying a technique and adjust the way they teach to the different learning styles. Students also have traditional classroom lessons and reading assignments.

Warhurst said she came out of the program with better communication skills and more patience. She said the instructors taught students how to communicate with co-workers in a bustling kitchen environment – such as calling out "sharp" when traveling through a kitchen with a knife or "hot" when opening an oven door behind a co-worker. One instructor told students it is fine to briefly pause, take a deep breath and regroup from time to time to lower personal stress during a hectic shift.

Warhurst said she also learned more about a health care environment from her training and work experience, and she plans to pursue emergency medical training certification.

Logan said many students taking part in the program grapple with life challenges. Some are teen parents. Others may have struggled in school or at home. She has heard from many of them that the culinary training gives them a real boost of self-confidence. The program gives the Providence volunteers a boost, too. "All of the students wrote personal notes of thanks to every instructor in the program."

Logan said the volunteer work provides the Providence chefs with a concrete way to embody Providence's core values of stewardship and justice. "It gives them a sense of pride to be able to give back."

Copyright © 2015 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
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