It ended where it started, in the kitchen.
It was one year ago when our partners from social services first sent us the names of who would become our first Culinary Training Program cohort- women who they saw potential in, who they knew were passionate about cooking, and who had dreams of employment. Soon after I found myself sitting at Mercy’s kitchen table, talking with her about her love for food, about her mother who is a Chef in Nigeria, and watching her eyes gleam as she talked about her dreams for the future.
A few months later, our group met for the first time, together with our culinary director, Jessica Rosval, who was writing our first training program curriculum. Caritas Modenese had opened up their doors to us to test out this new program, and so we got together to connect through doing what we all knew best- to cook.
Over the next months, our group formed naturally in the kitchen. Mercy, the mother figure, Debora, the business woman, precious, the organizer, and Charity, the team player and the glue holding us all together. As we learned more about our trainees Jessica and Caroline worked to create a plan for them that would give them the tools for professionals both in the kitchen and as individuals.
After only a few workshops, we met together with the group to look ahead at the next steps for the program, which is the first time Mercy told us: “as soon as I knew about the program, I loved it. My mom is a Chef in Nigeria. Now I feel like a giant because I am confident that I can do it. I feel like I can move mountains.”
“as soon as I knew about the program, I loved it. My mom is a Chef in Nigeria. Now I feel like a giant because I am confident that I can do it. I feel like I can move mountains.”
The first week of May, we launched the Culinary Training Program, three days per week, 15 hours per week, and taught by AIW's first employee, our Chef Trainer, Alessia Morabito, and a group of volunteer Skill Builders, both chefs and with other professional backgrounds.
Each week, our trainees learned a new cooking topic, from traditional Modenese dishes, to meats, pastries, etc: and at the end of each week, we would meet in the classroom to talk about transferable skills that would make the difference in their future workplaces. All of our trainees reported gaining not only skills, but confidence throughout the program.
We integrated into our program, occasions for our trainees to grow their responsibility, like Charity, who was quickly promoted to sous-chef of our program and given the extra responsibility to gather ingredients for classes before-hand from the market.
We evaluated our trainees and sat with each of them to discuss their strengths and areas for improvement; everyone had an individualized plan that would help them to ultimately progress and succeed in the program. We integrated special occasions to share our trainees’ food culture with our Modenese community, and we collaborated with our social partners to feed neighbors experiencing food insecurity.
But now, we are looking ahead.
After four months, 200 hours of training, and 10 volunteers we are thrilled to say that already several of our graduates have been offered positions to begin their first jobs. We could not be more proud of the growth that we have all witnessed, both of our trainees and our organization as a whole. And with that we say a huge congratulations to the first four brave woman who started this journey with us, and who will always hold a special place in our hearts!
---> To learn more about the Association for the Integration of Women's mission and impact, visit weareaiw.org
---> To support our mission to provide training for more women in Modena, consider making a donation at weareaiw.org/donate