Holyoke Community College, in partnership with the Hampden County Sheriff's Department, has been awarded a $71,300 grant to train currently and formerly incarcerated men and women to work in the food service industry while also preparing them to pass their high school equivalency tests.
The grant, from the state Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education, Division of Adult and Community Learning Services, for the first time integrates vocational training and preparation for the HiSet test, formerly the GED.
"There's an increasing drive toward contextualizing adult basic skills and including occupational skills with it, instead of making those sequential," said Kermit Dunkelberg, HCC vice president of Adult Basic Education and Workforce Development. "So somebody can be working on completing their high school equivalency and at the same time getting job training, rather than taking the test first and subsequently enrolling in a training program."
The 15-week program will serve up to 36 individuals in two cohorts from facilities managed by the Hampden County Sheriff's Department. The Sheriff's Department will provide HiSet preparation during the week at their facilities. HCC will provide instruction in culinary arts on Saturdays at the Pre-Release Center in Ludlow for the first five weeks and in the Culinary Arts Laboratory kitchen on the HCC campus for the following 10 weeks.
Upon successful completion of the Integrated Education and Training program, participants will have obtained a high school equivalency degree, a culinary arts certificate, a Serv-Safe certification and an OSHA-10 certification, which show they have been trained in safe food handling and workplace safety.
The first cohort begins in January.
HCC and the Hampden County Sheriff's Department have for years collaborated to offer adult basic education services and vocational training to incarcerated men and women and those receiving after-incarceration services.
"We're excited to continue our partnership with HCC," said Dan O'Malley, director of education for the Hampden County Sheriff's Department. "We believe in the vision of increasing opportunities through educational transformation. Our collaboration with HCC helps to promote the successful reentry of our population into society as responsible, working, law-abiding citizens."
Most recently, HCC and the Sheriff's Department have jointly run programs that combine culinary arts training and a college-preparation class. Students in that program already had their high school diplomas or high school equivalency.
"We're targeting a little bit different level of education with this new grant, but there's a great need for it," said Dunkelberg. "Having the high school equivalency is really important for getting a job, and the culinary training should help them do that too. Having the HiSet also makes them eligible for college or transition to college programs."
PHOTOS by CHRIS YURKO: (Left) A student in a joint HCC-Hampden County Sheriff's Department culinary arts and college-readiness program prepares a mozzarella and eggplant dish. (Right) Two students in the program prepare a meal in the Culinary Arts Laboratory kitchen at HCC.