Covenant House Toronto’s Cooking For Life Culinary Arts Job Training Program Marks its Second Anniversary

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Covenant House Toronto celebrates two years of its highly successful Cooking For Life program that prepares homeless youth for careers in Toronto’s thriving restaurant industry.

I was just a kid who wanted to eat. Now I’m in a cooking program and going on a job placement and getting a job.

Covenant House Toronto recently marked the two-year anniversary of its culinary arts training program, Cooking for Life.

Since its launch in 2011, over 90 at-risk and homeless youth have graduated from Covenant House Toronto’s highly successful Cooking for Life culinary arts job training program. To date, almost 70 percent of program graduates were employed after the program, most within the food industry. Some of these youth have already earned promotions and are beginning chef apprenticeship programs at their places of work.

Our in-house restaurant grade industrial kitchen allows homeless youth to get real job training to prepare them for a working kitchen. Because of the hands-on quality of the training, the Cooking for Life program works very well for youth who are not successful in traditional classroom settings. Street kids from Covenant House Toronto’s youth shelter are referred to the program as a means to get them a job with a future and living independently.

"Too many of our kids can only get dead-end minimum wage jobs that don’t pay enough to support them living in the city," explains Danielle Neilson, Support Services Manager at Covenant House Toronto. "This program prepares them for a rewarding career, not just a job."

Youth are taught culinary foundational skills including knife handling, food preparation, grilling, sauteing and baking, as well as working with the kitchen equipment. All participants earn their safe food handlers certification before beginning their job placements.

"They really help you. They pay for you to write your food handlers certificate. That’s, like, an $80 test. That’s a lot of money to a homeless kid," says a program graduate.

The majority of program participants are living in our shelter or longer-term residence to ensure they are stably housed throughout. Youth are fed lunch every day and receive a stipend from Skills Link Canada, funded by the federal government.

Youth are also taught work relationship skills while in our kitchen: teamwork, leadership, anger management and patience. Youth must follow strict schedules to fully prepare them for the expectations of the working world.

Community partnerships are the key to the success of this program. All across Toronto, restaurant owners and chefs are taking on Cooking for Life youth in four to six week internship positions. Youth are gaining real hands-on experience, some in trendy fast-paced restaurants. Once the internship is complete, youth are then ready to find full-time employment in the field. More than half the time, youth are hired on the spot by the same restaurant who offered them the internship.

"I was just a kid who wanted to eat. Now I’m in a cooking program and going on a job placement and getting a job," explains another program graduate. Youth are hired as prep cooks straight out of the Cooking for Life program and earn as much as 40 percent above minimum wage.

About Covenant House Toronto

As Canada's largest homeless youth agency, Covenant House Toronto changes lives by providing the widest range of services and support under one roof. A national leader, we educate and advocate for change to help at-risk and homeless youth.

More than a place to stay, we provide 24/7 crisis shelter and a longer-term residential program along with comprehensive services, including education, counseling, health care, employment assistance and job training.

For more than 30 years, Covenant House has helped thousands of young people move from a life on the street to a life with a future.

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Rose Cino
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Covenant House Toronto
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