Russell is hungry for opportunity – and hopes you are just plain hungry.

“I like to think I’ve got an educated palate,” he jokes.

The 37-year old man from North Philadelphia is both a community-minded philosopher and budding entrepreneur, and he, along with the other dozen or so members of this first Culinary Connections cohort, are now starting internships and pursuing job opportunities throughout Philadelphia.

“More Than I Expected”

It’s hard to believe, but it was a little over three months ago when Othelia walked into a classroom at her local CareerLink.

“It was so inviting,” the South Philadelphia resident remembers. “The detail and the passion that everyone has for the program is special. I knew it involved some sort of food training, but it was more than I expected!”

That training – ten weeks of structured learning in a classroom and professional kitchen – allowed Othelia to really expand on her previous cooking and kitchen experience. Additionally, it allowed her to think more about what she’d like to do with her talent.

I realized that I want to give a hand to the underdog…you get a blessing without getting a blessing, if you know what I mean.” 

“I realized I want to give a hand to the underdog,” she says, proudly. “Maybe working in a hospital, or helping out senior citizens, or volunteering in a shelter. Food training – these skills – allow you to get a blessing without getting a blessing, if you know what I mean.”

Connection to Culture

For Hashay, Culinary Connections represents a chance to achieve personal goals, while connecting with his past.

“My godmother is Dominican, while my father is from Mexico,” he notes. “We have members of our family from Puerto Rico and Colombia.”

Growing up in Chicago, Hashay remembers the segregation of cultures and moved to Philadelphia, in part, to change his element and surroundings.

“I felt like if I had stayed there, my world might have been a world behind bars,” he says. Now living in Northeast Philadelphia, Hashay was so excited about the program that he would wake up at 5 a.m., just to take a bus and train to get to the West Philadelphia classroom on time.

Seeing the possibility of combining his heritage with his life dreams, Hashay is searching for that next step.

“I want to have a lifestyle,” he mentions. “A career, which shows the world to people.”

Change of Pace

“I had worked in food service at a nursing home for ten years,” notes Patrick, whose wife told him about the program after seeing it on Facebook. “The opportunities – and the chance for a change of pace – are the best part.”

With three children at home, ranging from ages 3-17, Patrick knew that his next career move would need to set his family up for the next phase of their lives.

“Life hits you, and when it does, you realize ‘I have to do something,’” he says. “And so going back into the classroom, learning what you don’t know, and then being able to show what you do know, is great!”

With a specialty in Italian dishes, Patrick’s goal is to be an executive chef in a restaurant. His goal was only furthered when Culinary Connections instructors provided real-life opportunities, such as a trip to view vendors and merchants at Sysco, and the chance to cook for others, including a successful sandwich venture and the Pennsylvania Signature Chef’s Gala, for which the participants provided appetizers.

“This was a very experienced cohort,” said instructor Clive Brooks. “They want more out of life, they’re dependable, and employers love them. I’m especially proud of this group of people.”

Brooks’ pride isn’t unfounded.  Recently, program participants learned that they had a 100% success rate in obtaining their ServSafe Food Protection Manager Certifications; many are engaged in four-week internships across the Delaware Valley or have already secured positions.

It’s all part of a process of fulfillment, notes Russell, who is excited to move to the next step.

“I pushed papers in an office, and didn’t find it fulfilling,” he said. “To have the ability to create something – I want to start my own food truck, and have a small business, and then give people a second chance. This helps people retool. There are a lot of people who hate themselves because they don’t feel useful in life, and I want to help provide them opportunities to know their value.”


Culinary Connections is a partnership between JEVS Human Services and FNC Philadelphia. For more information and to begin the application process for the next cohort, click here.

Posted in Client Spotlight