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At Life’s Kitchen graduation: ‘I did it’

anne-wallace-allen-headshotJasper Burchard had been out of school and at home, unemployed, for two years when she started taking the bus from Caldwell to Life’s Kitchen in Boise for a food service training program.

On Nov. 13, she stood up at a graduation program in the nonprofit’s café to accept a certificate of completion and thank her mother and grandmother for their support through the 16-week program.

“This is one of the most cool things I’ve done in my life,” Jasper said. “I am surprised I got through it and didn’t drop it like everything else, but I did, and here I am.”

Jasper’s the most important link in a chain between the food service industry, which is critically short of workers, and job training programs that provide life and financial skills to get people on their feet and working. Among other things, Life’s Kitchen helps trainees earn their GEDs and the certifications that will help them find restaurant work. There are other similar programs in Boise; one, Create Common Good, helps refugees, the recently incarcerated, and others learn kitchen and life skills and helps them find jobs. Life’s Kitchen trains young people ages 16-20 years old who have been struggling to get the qualifications they need to work. The organization pays in part for its programs through providing school lunches, catering services and a café.

For Jasper, who dropped out of Canyon Springs High School in Caldwell, even earning a GED originally seemed unattainable.

“We couldn’t afford it,” she said. “We are really poor. Every bit of money we got went into gas or food or something else.”

She applied for jobs but without a GED wasn’t successful, even for fast food positions. Then, she learned about Life’s Kitchen from her boyfriend, who had been through the program and loved it. She said she’s now earned her GED and a manager-level ServSafe certification that will help her find a job in food service.

Life’s Kitchen has a hard time drawing trainees to its programs; only three graduated with Jasper on Nov. 13. One of the biggest obstacles is transportation, say Life’s Kitchen staff and volunteers. Many of the people who could be helped by Life’s Kitchen live in rural areas far from Boise. Jasper took the bus, riding about an hour and a half each way every day. She’d leave at 6:30 am.

Jasper said another problem is that the people she knows just don’t hear about programs like Life’s Kitchen. She recommended more advertising on social media, but said word of mouth was really what would convince people to give it a try.

“It’s one thing to see an advertisement,” she said. “To get a recommendation from a friend is another thing.”

Now, Jasper, an artist, hopes to find a job and save up enough money to buy a car. Her first choice of profession is hair and makeup, but she thinks having job skills will help her work in food service and save up to pursue her original dream.

“I’m honestly really surprised that I actually did this,” she said. “I’m one of those people who picks things up and works on it for a little bit and puts it down. I didn’t complete school and I almost never complete drawings all the way through. I thought I would drop this, but for some reason I didn’t.”

Anne Wallace Allen is editor of the Idaho Business Review.

About Anne Wallace Allen

Anne Wallace Allen is the editor of the Idaho Business Review.