Camillus House / Miami Dade College Perseveres Culinary Training Program


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In an effort to help homeless people in Miami escape from street life and achieve success, Camillus House and Miami Dade College have formed a kitchen chef training program at Camillus House.

The training program began in January 2018, and by June of that year, three classes had completed their training. Some continued to work at Marlins Stadium, Marriott Biscayne Bay, Levy’s and Fioli restaurants in Coral Gables.

Until last year, the program graduated in seven departments – a total of about 90 graduates – with an employment rate of more than 70 percent.

Then a pandemic ensued.

Knowing full well that hiring would be harder, Hilda Fernandez, CEO of Camillus House, thought it was important for the program to continue.

“There’s nothing that makes my day better than seeing these students walking around the Camillus House campus with an expression of pride on their faces,” Fernandez explains. “Working in the kitchen requires a lot of discipline, which is great for these clients.”

Lecture through the pandemic required drastic changes in the way the program worked.

The Miami Dade College Catering Institute typically offered training five days a week during the seven-week program, with students spending mornings in the classroom and working in the kitchens in the afternoons.

COVID-19 has changed the way lessons are handled. Now the lessons are offered virtually four days a week with a one-day culinary training session at the Miami Culinary Institute at Wolfson Campus in downtown Miami-Dade.

Despite the changes, students are taught culinary skills that will enable them to find a job. “They learn to boil chicken from chicken, make all the sauces, learn about different cuts of beef and safe handling of food which is very important,” Fernandez explains.

They also learn invaluable lessons that can take them beyond the culinary world.

“We also integrate life skills and employability skills into the training, as they are crucial to success in life and finding future employment,” says Lauren Drosdowech, manager of the hospitality institute.

The program was a positive experience for recent graduate Ryan Walsh.

“Practicality at the Miami Culinary Institute was the highlight of each week. The facility was at the top of the line, it was an amazing experience, “he says.

Because the restaurant industry is such a competitive market, it offers endless employment opportunities, but without training or a stable job history, it is difficult for newcomers to get a chance to prove their worth. The Camillus program gives attendees a leg up in a competitive marketplace.

“The college certificate and the food safety certificate they get from Miami Dade College puts them in a better position to hire,” Fernandez says.

If we stop a little longer, graduates are offered the opportunity to apply their certificate to the Miami Dade College Associate Diploma. “We help any student who wants to continue their education by enrolling in academic programs,” says Shelly Fano, chairwoman of the faculty’s hospitality program.

The graduation ceremony for the fall class in 2020 was held almost at the end of October. Although there were no personal hugs or high fives, the instructors and staff of the catering institute shone with pride during the ceremonies. Although futures are uncertain, there is a sense of accomplishment.

“This was a great partnership with Miami Dade College – they were amazing,” says Fernandez.

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