After a six-month stint of training under a professional chef, students of a culinary school program for developmentally delayed adults crossed the finish line on Wednesday.
The program was offered through UNITI, an organization that advocates for people with disabilities and finds solutions to barriers they face, including housing, education and employment. Their mandate states that through inclusion of everybody, real social change can occur.
One of their initiatives, Food Service Assistant Program — in partnership with Western Community College and Progressive Intercultural Community Services — places the students in a food establishment to get real-world experience in both back- and front-of-house positions.
Their placement with Western Community College ended with a graduation ceremony on Wednesday (Aug. 10).
“People with disabilities have the right to learn like all other people in our community,” Doug Tennant, CEO of UNITI, said at the graduation ceremony.
The graduating class is comprised of Paul Bagsic, Aaron Baillet, Braxton Begg, Eric Bui, Wyatt Campbell, Jude Chun, Nathan Currie, Hannah David, Amanda Erlendson, Harman Gill, Tammy Gowdyk, Eva Kwan, Craig Muirhead and James Wahing.
Tammy Gowdyk was the cohort’s valedictorian.
During the workplace period, the students worked at Round Up Cafe in Surrey, under the training and supervision of a red seal chef, Roger Joharchy. The restaurant was donated to UNITI by the owners last year for the culinary arts program.
During the course, class members refined their knife and plating skills, performed food preparation and interacted with customers.
“I was so excited to start this program. This course has made me proud and given me the confidence to do whatever I want with my life,” Gowdyk said during her valedictorian speech.
“This is helping develop life skills that I can use at home as well as in the workplace. I’m now better at making relationships in the professional setting.”
A special guest at the ceremony was a previous student of the first cohort of CULA, clicking away with a camera in hand. He was able to secure himself a position at Salmon n’ Bannock, a Vancouver-based restaurant featuring Indigenous-cultural foods, where he now works while also pursuing his passion of photography on the side.
“Community Inclusion is not complete without Economic Inclusion,” said Seema Tripathi, director of innovation and employment at UNITI.
“Employment is the lifeline to economic inclusion and the food service assistant certificate programs open this door to meaningful employment, both for our clients and the employers in the food industry.”