Archives For August 2011


On Katrina’s 6th Anniversary, Let’s Not Forget the Underlying Disaster

As the East Coast recovers from Hurricane Irene, which ended up not being the ‘storm of the century,’ let’s keep in mind the disaster that most certainly was.

Today, on the 6th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the harrowing images of low-income people stranded on their rooftops desperately awaiting help remain indelibly imprinted in our memories.  These people’s plight was the canary in the coalmine reminding us of why we must regard the poverty that inflicts everyday hardship on some 44 million Americans as a disaster in its own right.

We will affix a silver lining to the Katrina tragedy by keeping these images in mind and recognizing the need to make long-term investments that enhance opportunity for low-income people.

Poor Kids Need Skills But Maybe Not a College Degree

Geoffrey Canada gets lots of deserved attention for the enormous work he has done with the Harlem Children’s Zone to create opportunity for disadvantaged children.  Equity Blog recently reported that other communities around the country are also creating “Promise Neighborhoods,” tapping into millions in funding made available by the Obama Administration.

In applauding these initiatives for encouraging more low-income kids to go to college, we ought to bear in mind that for many of these kids, college may not be the best pathway to the American Dream.  Even if they excel in high school, they may lack the strong adult guidance needed to stay focused on their schoolwork.  Or they may not be able to afford rising tuition costs.  Whatever the reason, college dropout rates among the poor are staggering.

Moreover, economic forecasts by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce indicate that significant job growth is expected through 2018 in positions that require specialized post-secondary training but NOT a four-year college degree – such as dental hygienist, construction manager, electrician, health technologist, paralegal, and nurse.  This is why “Pathways to Prosperity,” a Harvard Graduate School of Education report issued earlier this year, recommends that high schools develop other models besides college for helping young people transition to adulthood.

Food-service Jobs: A Tasty Way To Employ Low-Income Youth

Toni Elka has had a longstanding commitment to helping young people succeed.  She is the founder of Future Chefs, a Boston nonprofit that coaches low-income students in local vocational high schools who display the potential to refine their culinary skills with further training.  To be eligible for the program, students make a commitment to formulate a plan for successfully moving their lives forward.  Youth become affiliated with the organization in either 10th or 11th grade and go through a three-phase program.

  • Phase 1 – They explore the industry by forging relationships with chefs at local restaurants who mentor them on honing the skills needed for kitchen work and on being committed to the principles of responsibility, discipline, and honesty within a positive peer group.
  • Phase 2 – Students work with Future Chefs staff to develop a specific, individualized plan for their next move after graduation, either post-secondary training in the culinary arts or full-time employment.  Students refine their kitchen skills via job shadowing and internships, and also work on developing soft skills like showing up on time, being part of a team, and managing emotions.
  • Phase 3 – They continue to receive coaching as they begin college or a job.  Not only are they now starting to implement their individualized plan, they are also proving their commitment to the future success of other disadvantaged youth by serving as mentors for students in phase 1.  This way, the program passes on the wealth it creates.

Future Chefs staff believe youth need continuous guidance when transitioning into adulthood.  Elka says, “We are not a hit-and-run program for kids.  We don’t just work with them in high school and we don’t just work with them after they’re already in trouble.  We’re working with them to put them on a pathway and stick with them until they figure out what the basic rules of success are.”  And though Future Chefs has only been around since 2008, it is making a big impact.

  • 91% of people in phase 2 or 3 work at internships or jobs that build their resume in the culinary arts.
  • 90% of those who have completed phase 3 are either enrolled in or have already completed post-secondary training.

Becoming connected to Future Chefs offers these youth opportunities they would likely never get otherwise.  Forging relationships with mentors who are interested in youngsters’ personal and occupational success enables them to chart constructive possibilities for their adult lives.  No one can predict where these students would be without Future Chefs but it is certain that they are on a pathway to success now.