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.