NECAT (New England Culinary Arts Training)
, when the organization had to close its doors because of the coronavirus. She had heard about the organization’s free Culinary Arts Job Training Program while she was incarcerated. Released from her nearly three-year sentence in 2018, she was finally in a stable place and ready to enroll in NECAT’s program, which would teach her the culinary arts along with the job readiness and financial skills she would need to secure a great career-ladder job. It seemed like the perfect fit.
When Caroline enrolled at NECAT she had been working part-time for a temp agency and had enough income to maintain stable housing. But as a result of the pandemic, she had lost her job and her housing and had nowhere to go. In response, her NECAT case worker, Anthony “Big Time” Seymour, galvanized his network and found her emergency shelter at a hotel followed by a long-term placement at a women’s shelter in Boston.
None of these disappointments have hampered Caroline’s progress or her drive. She has spent her time working with NECAT's Career Services team to update her resume and apply for numerous "critical role" jobs. Already, she has secured a position as a Dietary Aide at a medical facility. Through all of this, she is keeping up with NECAT's virtual culinary and job readiness lessons, and is committed to completing her training and working toward the stable future she knows is now within reach.
NECAT empowers adults facing barriers to employment through training in the culinary skills as well as a focus on social-emotional development, career-readiness and long-term financial stability. Before COVID-19, it planned to enroll roughly 250 students this year between its two locations in Boston and Everett.
"We serve individuals who have really struggled to secure or maintain stable employment,” says Executive Director Joey Cuzzi. “We provide the opportunity to learn a marketable skill and the extra encouragement and guidance some need to stay on track. Through training, support and employment services, our goal is to help them launch careers and achieve long-term financial stability.
The food services industry has been one of the hardest hit by COVID-19. NECAT suspended all of its in-person classes on March 13th. At the time, it had 68 active students and more than 500 alumni, many of whom are newly unemployed and isolated, struggling with financial, emotional and other serious challenges.
NECAT's team is working remotely to provide support and opportunities for on-line learning, resume building and job sourcing. It is building an online library of culinary, job readiness and social/emotional lessons and quizzes, and its instructors are conducting one-on-one tutoring sessions with students. In addition, its career services team is helping students and alumni update their resumes and prepare for interviews with local employers who are hiring critical staff.
Through video conferencing, email and phone calls, NECAT’s staff is supporting students and alumni, many of whom are struggling with isolation or recovery and don't know where their next meal will come from. In just a few weeks, the nonprofit has connected with 254 students and graduates, helping more than 60 obtain re-employment, giving almost 140 students counseling and support services and helping them enroll in unemployment and update resumes. Some 90 students have already taken NECAT’s one-on-one culinary instruction.
Committed to supporting its clients until it reopens and the economy recovers, the organization also launched an emergency student fund
and is providing financial assistance to current students and alumni to help them bridge the wait for unemployment benefits or until they can secure another job. Most students that they are using the funds to purchase food or pay rent.
This is one in a series of stories about grantees of the Boston Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund. These Greater Boston nonprofits are on the front-lines of our community's response to this crisis. While we are all struggling to cope with the hardships of the coronavirus, these organizations, their leaders and their staff are serving the most vulnerable among us. Boston Indicators, the Boston Foundation’s Research Center, is providing valuable data and analysis for these stories. Visit tbf.org for more on the COVID-19 Response Fund