Three days a week, Catherine, Rachel, Sean and Lamar don their white uniforms and get busy in the HCC cafeteria kitchen. On this particular Friday, they are baking muffins, but on any given day, they might be cutting vegetables for soup or the salad bar, baking and bagging cookies, making salsa or preparing chicken Caesar wraps.
They are all students in an HCC program called ASSET, Achieving Success through Supported Education and Training. The program, now in its fifth year, is a collaboration between the college and Community Enterprises, a Northampton-based nonprofit that conducts job training for people with developmental disabilities. ASSET supports 12 students this year between the ages of 18 and 22.The program's goal is to transition them out of high school by teaching them work skills and, ultimately, helping them find meaningful employment.
"We're basically trying to get them job ready," says ASSET instructor Luanne Neves.
The one-year certificate program offers three classes: business office technology, work appropriate social skills and culinary arts. Over the course of the year, students will learn computer skills, how to write a resume and a cover letter and get practice doing mock interviews. Community Enterprises also facilitates internships and practicums for all the students throughout the year.
In addition, some of the students participate in the culinary program. In past years, Aramark, HCC's dining service, has allowed the program space for students to learn and practice basic kitchen skills and prepare recipes. "This year, we talked about what we could do to make the culinary program better, to get students job ready, to be a prep-cook and work in a kitchen," said Brianna Roy, the ASSET instructor from Community Enterprises.
Roy said Mark Pronovost, head of dining services for Aramark, was willing. ASSET has had success placing students with Aramark as interns and one was hired after last year to work in the HCC cafeteria kitchen. Now, four ASSET students work in the kitchen every Monday, Tuesday and Friday. "Two days a week we do prep for Aramark," says ASSET culinary instructor Linda Schwartz. "One day a week we cook or bake for ourselves."
Pronovost said the ASSET students are treated just like they are Aramark employees. "IT's a great program," said Pronovost. "The students enjoy it. They really take pride in the work they do. It's really been a good partnership for everybody. I just give them support, whether it's uniforms, space or product."
Student Catherine Deroche says she enjoys learning how to cut different vegetables in different ways. The carrot and spice muffins they are baking today they will get to keep for themselves.
"After we make things, it's fun to share with the rest of the class," she said.
Photos: (Left) ASSET students prepare to bake muffins in the HCC cafeteria kitchen. (Right) Student Catherine Deroche gets started on her carrot and spice muffin recipe.