Toni is a grandmother of two and a West Philadelphia resident who speaks from the heart.

“I felt like I was taking from the community and people that loved me,” she said, matter-of-factly. “For years, I watched friends die, and felt like I was doing nothing with my life. I couldn’t keep living like that.”

Toni’s story of success has come full circle today–a JEVS Culinary Connections graduate, she’s in a long-term relationship, is the mother of a Navy veteran, and is finally achieving career success at a Brown’s Family ShopRite, right here in Philadelphia. And her troubled past is exactly that–in the past.

“I always liked to cook, and be in a kitchen atmosphere,” she said.  “One day, a friend of mine who was Chef Clive’s (Brooks, of Culinary Connections) sous chef told me to check out the program.”

Culinary Connections is an 8-week training program that accepts and encourages referrals of potential participants from the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. Math, knife skills and kitchen prowess are taught and put to the test, as participants work toward their ServSafe Food Protection Manager Certification.

“I was skeptical at first,” Toni explained. “I even missed the first week, but they believed in me, and I was able to catch up and complete the training and a four-week internship at Sodexo in Cherry Hill [NJ], where I learned alot.”

Toni noted that the internship and job placement services offered by program staff were extremely valuable, and her goal–of getting into a supermarket or restaurant kitchen–took a few applications.

“I had been working for a temp agency in Norristown when I applied for a deli counter position at ShopRite in Roxborough,” she said. “I told Culinary Connections about it and they helped get me ready–both to get the job and to step out of my comfort zone.”

For the past ten months, Toni has been part of the ShopRite family–impressing her coworkers and managers with her dedication and tenacity. When ShopRite realized that she had been taking two buses just to get to work, Toni was transferred to a new location just a few minutes from her home.

“I like the people I work with, and the customer service aspect of the job,” she noted. “Everything that has happened up until now…I feel like this is my right moment.”

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