Grantee Spotlight: Work Options
2022 was a year full of challenge, recovery, creativity and helping 243 people move towards sustained employment. It was a year that started with a COVID resurgence and ended with the launch of our Line Cook Apprenticeship program. In November, we were dislocated from our training site in the Denver Human Services building due to plumbing problems. Over a weekend, we moved our training operations to our newest training site on the Mosaic Community Campus at Montview and Quebec.
The most important information is about the resiliency and tenacity our students show each day. This year we had a goal of 250 students enrolled and we enrolled 243 aspiring culinary workers. 75% of our enrollees completed our training with over half becoming sustainably employed. It was a difficult year for the population we serve. The increased inflation and the absence of childcare have had a toll on families especially young women. This year, for the first time ever, we saw a significant drop in the number of enrolled students who have young children in their homes. This is a direct result of the lack of available — much less affordable — childcare. On the bright side, our newly employed students are being hired at the highest wage ever. Our students’ average wage is now over $17 per hour (Denver’s minimum wage last year was $15.82), with many of them earning over $20 per hour.
The Mobile Culinary Classroom, which was built with the Impact100 Metro Denver funding in 2018, had its most productive year yet. We trained 57 students in the classroom with 44 completing the training and 85% of those students becoming employed! Most of those students were justice-involved, many coming straight from incarceration into our classroom. Since 2017, when we built the MCC with your amazing $100,000 contribution, we have trained 177 justice-involved individuals, most of whom have gone on to sustainable employment. As we talked about during the grant process, employment is the #1 deterrent to going back to prison and our program bears that out. Of the 177 individuals, only three people have been re-incarcerated. For perspective, the state’s average is 50%, which is a solid endorsement of our program and certainly a nod to the collective wisdom of the ‘Impact Women’ who invested in our program as we tackle this issue.
New in 2022, we opened a new training facility on the former Johnson and Wales campus in Park Hill. The campus was bought by the Urban Land Conservancy in 2020 and is managed by the Kitchen Network which recruited Work Options to join what would become the Mosaic Community Campus. This state-of-the-art culinary center is evolving into a collection of for-profit and nonprofit culinary businesses. We have been utilizing the training kitchen as a home for the Helping Hen, our food truck, and in November 2022 we moved our whole Denver training center to the campus. It is very gratifying to see our students training in this state-of-the-art facility.
In November, we were accepted as a federally certified National Restaurant Association Apprenticeship Training site. Soon after we began our training program with six apprentices. This year we plan to expand the program by developing employer partners throughout metro Denver and training up to 16 apprentices.
My final news is that Women Cook — our fabulous Gala — has been updated and renamed. On May 22, we will hold the first-ever Work Options Culinary Classic on the Mosaic Community Campus, 1785 Quebec St. The event will continue to feature local chefs and their sumptuous small-bite offering. In addition, we will have cooking demonstrations, a competition for best dish and lots more. We will be sending updates on social media. If you are not receiving our posts, please reach out to me at Julie@workoptions.org and we will add you to our mailing list.
For more information or to get involved, contact Anna Zawisza, firstname.lastname@example.org