James has loved to cook since he was a child in Louisiana, but life took him in another direction. With a little help and support from HRDC, he is now making the transition from ‘cook’ to ‘chef.’

James first came to HRDC to be part of the SNAP Employment & Training program, a program that helps participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, achieve their self-sufficiency goal by providing opportunities for work experience, education and job retention training activities. One-on-one support is provided through case management to assist with obstacles which prevent individuals from becoming gainfully employed.

When James was referred to HRDC he met his case manager, Penny. She helped James completed weekly itineraries, took him shopping for work clothes, as well as get bus passes so he could get to school and work.

“Talking with (Penny) was great, the whole time. She understood my situation and helped me get back on my feet.”

James had already begun working towards his dream of being a chef. He had been hired as a part-time cook at Applebee’s. The next step was to develop his culinary skills even further. That’s when James joined the Culinary Job Skills Training program in the Fortin Culinary Center at the Billings Food Bank. The 12-week course is designed to teach future chefs everything from culinary terminology, knife skills, and food and kitchen safety, to preparation of fruits, vegetables, stocks, sauces, meats, poultry, pastas, and pastries.

James knew the course would not be easy, but he was determined to graduate. “When I signed up for the class, I was out shopping and I saw this wrist band that said ‘I took the Pledge; Graduation Matters.’ And I bought it because they have had several who took the program and did not finish, and I was not going to be one of those.”

Over the 12-week course, James saw his classmates disappear one by one. The program began with 22 students; James was one of only three to graduate.

James was able to use his part-time job at Applebee’s as his internship for the culinary program. The program not only gave him improved cooking skills, it also helped turn his part-time job into full-time.

James calls the help and support he received at HRDC a ‘blessing’ and encourages anyone who needs help to explore the programs at HRDC.

“I see so many guys who say they want a better life and they don’t follow through, they fall back into their old ways. They are not willing to go through the process to get to the end and follow through. You need to put forward the effort to succeed.”


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