A student stirring a large pot of food

Orange County Jail’s Culinary Program Serves up Job Skills

Community & Services

Tory Blackwell, a former Orange County Corrections Department inmate, is now lead cook at a popular local restaurant thanks to IN2WORK vocational training. The culinary program is designed to provide offenders with the skills and knowledge to secure jobs post-release in the food service, retail and warehousing industries – in turn reducing recidivism and successfully rehabilitating offenders.

“The program gave me a chance to learn a skill I could use to secure a good job,” said Blackwell, who started out as a dishwasher and worked his way up to become lead cook. “It also really helped me with my interpersonal skills, which you need to have in the food service industry.”

Blackwell immediately embraced the pre-culinary program, which teaches basic kitchen operations in the classroom through instructor-student interaction. Participants also get practical kitchen time to gain hands-on experiences working in the kitchen and helping prepare meals for Work Release Center residents. Upon completion of the course, Blackwell passed a final exam and received a Safe Staff Florida Food Handler Certification, which helped him gain employment at Mediterranean Blue. Today, he enjoys making Greek favorites such as moussaka and souvlaki.

“The program gave me a chance at a real life,” he said. “I feel a sense of accomplishment when I cook for other people, and for the first time in my life I’m really proud of what I’m doing.”

The four-week, full-time program is a partnership between the Orange County Corrections Department and Aramark Corporation, which provides various food services to education, healthcare, business, corrections and leisure clients. Graduates receive direct job placement services through Goodwill Industries of Central Florida Job Connection Centers, including assistance with applying and interviewing for jobs, resume writing, computer training and career counseling.

“Most of our participants have gone on to steady culinary employment and haven’t returned to incarceration,” said David Nickens, program instructor with Aramark. “Several have become managers and supervisors. They achieve progress and stay out of the criminal justice system.”

Orange County Corrections Department and Aramark are happy that graduates clearly see the opportunity to improve their chances for employment post-release by taking advantage of the program.

“I’ve been truly blessed to have reached and connected with so many people who have persevered and turned themselves into positive, motivated individuals who gained confidence in themselves,” said Nickens.

Another successful program is the jail’s Construction Program offered in partnership with Valencia College. The Corrections Department is focused on re-entry initiatives since 96 percent of inmates return to the community in an effort to become productive and contributing members of society.

Photo Caption: A student in the Orange County jail’s culinary program helps prepare meals at the Work Release Center.

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