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Job training in the kitchen for at-risk youth

Every week on What’s Working, we take a look at people and organizations that are changing lives in Michigan for the better.

Food Gatherers, a Southeast Michigan food bank, offers a job training program for youth ages 17 to 24.

Some participants are currently managing a mental illness, others have children or are primary caregivers for younger siblings—all are at risk for homelessness.

Christina Shockley, host of Michigan Radio’s Morning Edition, speaks with Mary Schlitt, director of development for Food Gatherers.

Schlitt says that the goal of the 6 week program is “to give [students] a positive and nurturing teaching experience. To give, for some of them, their first work experience in a way that they can learn…so when they do get that first job they have a leg up on the competition.”

Students learn food industry skills and manage a volunteer staff in the Community Kitchen, serving healthy meals to hungry people.

The program focuses on job placement and 88 percent of participants go on to work in the food industry or enroll in secondary education programs.

But Schlitt says the program isn’t just about employability. There is something special about food.

“They get involved and they start making the recipes that their parents taught them to make…people enjoy their food and there’s a connection there.  They cook for each other and they share their own recipes, and through that there’s a kind of camaraderie. Food is a great social opportunity.”

Christina began her career in radio at Michigan Radio while a student at the University of Michigan. She was a producer and researcher for The Todd Mundt Show, and then hosted Weekend Edition.