Learn-to-cook program comes at right time for vulnerable youth and restaurants in B.C.

·2 min read
Jewel George, 25, is a recent graduate of the Dan's Legacy program. (Jon Hernandez/CBC News - image credit)
Jewel George, 25, is a recent graduate of the Dan's Legacy program. (Jon Hernandez/CBC News - image credit)

A program that pairs at-risk youth with restaurants and catering companies is seeing success on all fronts less than a year after it launched.

With restaurants struggling to find staff and the pandemic negatively affecting the mental well-being of many people in British Columbia, Dan's Legacy launched its latest program, which provides counselling and culinary skills to people aged 15 to 25 who are at risk of overdose, self-harm, homelessness and suicide.

"The future they see for themselves is one of trying to survive on income assistance or minimum wage jobs," said Barbara Coates, Dan's Legacy's executive director in a release about the program.

"We're helping them get the training they need to qualify for well-paying positions in the hospitality industry."

The foundation, based in Delta, B.C., was created in 2006 in memory of a 19-year-old victim of sexual abuse who committed suicide.

Dan's Legacy/Facebook
Dan's Legacy/Facebook

Jewel George, 25, recently completed the four-month program in New Westminster, which provides transit, chefs' clothing and meals. She is now working at The Caterer in Burnaby.

"It's another environment to come into and just let go," she said. "It's relaxing, you get to pretty much work hands on and let everything out."

George said she's trying to move beyond her past struggles as a youth and is also working to support her partner who has epilepsy and cannot work.

"Going to school, it gave me more skills and more knowledge of cooking," she said. "It was a really good idea and I'm glad I made the decision."

Jon Hernandez/CBC News
Jon Hernandez/CBC News

Her new boss, Shay Kelly, is pleased the program was able to help George, but he's also grateful for the help she is providing to an embattled industry.

"She's just a great person to be around, she's just excited to come to work. She's never sad, she's always happy."

Like many business owners in B.C., Kelly has had challenges finding staff amid a pandemic-induced labour shortage.

The hospitality sector alone lost about 40,000 workers, according to the B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association.

"You have owners, people that were always growing the business, actually working in the business again, they're getting their sleeves rolled up again and they're tired," said Kelly.

"There's no back-up, and there's no staff."

He encourages his peers to seek our programs like the one Dan's Legacy is running to employ vulnerable people looking to improve their lives.

"If you give people opportunities in life, you never know where they'll go. They might flourish."

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