April 20, 2018

New culinary training program hopes to transform the lives of women

Development director Dawn Bennett and agency director Mark Casper, both of St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities in New Albany, hold a symbolic check representing $50,000 that the organization won last September through Impact 100 of Southern Indiana’s inaugural annual grant. The money was used to build a multiple-station kitchen to implement a new residential culinary training program, and to renovate a shelter kitchen for both training practice and residential use. Bennett and Casper are standing in the renovated kitchen. (Submitted photo)

Development director Dawn Bennett and agency director Mark Casper, both of St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities in New Albany, hold a symbolic check representing $50,000 that the organization won last September through Impact 100 of Southern Indiana’s inaugural annual grant. The money was used to build a multiple-station kitchen to implement a new residential culinary training program, and to renovate a shelter kitchen for both training practice and residential use. Bennett and Casper are standing in the renovated kitchen. (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

A new program is cooking at St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities (SECC) in New Albany. Literally—a new program being offered is culinary cooking, and it’s being done in the nonprofit organization’s new culinary training kitchen. The project, budgeted at $76,000, was made possible in part by SECC winning $50,000 through the inaugural “Impact 100 of Southern Indiana” annual grant.

“The new culinary training program is a way for us to try to give [our clients] skill sets they can use to seek to better themselves and get a job,” says agency director Mark Casper. The “clients” are unwed mothers living in the St. Elizabeth shelter. “We hope to have local schools and hospitals and restaurants ready to hire these ladies when they’re done.”

Casper says the idea for the kitchens and the culinary training program came about in 2016. When SECC completed a new, 2,500-square-foot building for its Marie’s Community Distribution Program in November of that year, 300 square feet were set aside for a multiple-station kitchen in the hopes of one day launching the culinary training project.

Around the same time, a group of women associated with the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana were forming a new initiative called Impact 100 of Southern Indiana.

“The goal is to find 100 women to give $1,000 each” toward a grant “for a nonprofit in Clark, Harrison and/or Floyd counties that serves women or children,” says Michelle Jadczak, a member of the group’s advisory board. “100 percent of the money donated that goes in, goes out.”

She says the ultimate goal of the all-volunteer, all-women group is to better southern Indiana through “transformational change,” which its website defines as “a change in the structure or composition of a program, or the addition of something new which has a significant impact on the constituents served by the organization.”

Within six months, the group had recruited 50 members. In 2017, they announced the availability of applications for a $50,000 grant for nonprofits who met their criteria.

St. Elizabeth applied, and was selected as one of three finalists. A panel reviewed the applications received, and selected three finalists". Each woman who donated $1,000 then reviewed a one-page project summary and listened to a seven-minute presentation at a dinner event last September. Then, the women voted, and the winning organization needed to receive a majority of the votes. The grant winner was announced at the end of the event, and that organization was St. Elizabeth.

“Their presentation blew us away,” says Jadczak. “They did a good job of showing how the project will create transformational change, how it will help these young women and mothers get training to support their families. The long-term goal for the kitchen would enhance our community with services we didn’t previously have.”

Casper says SECC was “very happy to win. … We know they chose us partly in faith that they knew we would execute the grant project in the timeline we provided and are making the impact we committed to.”

With the help of the grant, SECC not only built the new kitchen in the space set aside, but also renovated the kitchen of its shelter home.

“That will be used as the residents’ practice kitchen,” he explains, as well as be available for use for residents to cook for their families.

Casper says the plan is to begin the culinary training classes in May in the practice kitchen while awaiting completion of the primary training kitchen.

“We are finalizing the curriculum that will include about 10-12 four-hour sessions,” he says.

According to SECC’s grant proposal, the training “will cover cooking basics, skills required to work in kitchens, and other areas of the food service industry.”

To do this, SECC plans “to partner with local hospitals, restaurants and caterers to provide instruction and post-graduate employment assistance.”

Additionally, the proposal states that “the project will incorporate case management and mental health counseling to address other barriers that could affect a woman’s ability to be successful in the future, … the ability to become employed in a profession with a living wage and create a transformational change in their life and their children’s lives.”

Casper notes that “as more government funding goes away, you have to look for new ways to fund programs.” In light of that, he says, “Our hope is that this [project] may possibly grow into an opportunity for an SEE, a social economic enterprise. … A good example [of an SEE] is Goodwill [Industries]. They take in donations and sell those items to fund other programs.”

In the case of the culinary training program as a social economic enterprise, he offers an example in which students “could use the kitchen to make baked goods on Friday, then sell them on Saturday” at the local farmers market. The goal for the money raised would be “first to pay the people that you’re employing—in our case, residents of the shelter—to pay them a living wage [while] giving them skill sets they can use to seek to better themselves by getting a job. [Then] maybe you’ll run a surplus to run that program or another program.”

But such a model is in the future, Casper notes.

“Right now, we’re in the baby step of opening the teaching kitchen and giving these ladies skills.”

Jadczak is excited about the difference she and the other women are able to make by supporting nonprofits like SECC through Impact 100.

“A lot of people give a little all the time, $100 here, $100 there,” she explains. “But nonprofits need more than that. They need the opportunity to have a large infusion of cash to do amazing things and truly transform our community.”

She is also excited on a personal level that the first Impact 100 winner is St. Elizabeth. As a parishioner of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany, she was “thrilled” to see St. Elizabeth win.

“It’s a nice way to support the Catholic Church’s efforts in social justice. I’m excited to see what St. Elizabeth will accomplish.”
 

(For more information on the programs and needs of St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities or to donate, go to www.stecharities.org. For grant and membership information for Impact 100 of Southern Indiana, go to www.impact100si.org.)

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