Written by Eden Estabrook; Photo Credit: Lindsay Kappius
Pots banging. Knives chopping. The smell of baked goods wafting through the air. As I walked through Community Culinary School of Charlotte’s (CCSC) location at 9315-D Monroe Road, the kitchen was alive with the sights, smells, and sounds of students and teachers preparing for the opening of the School’s Cafe in a couple of hours.
Passing through the busy kitchen - dodging students carrying trays of prepped food and others with dirty dishes - Anne Lambert, the Director of Development shared more about CCSC’s operations. Led by Chef Ron Ahlert, CCSC provides paths to careers in the food service industry for adults whose career barriers include skills gaps, incarceration, substance abuse and addiction, homelessness, and veterans' reintegration issues. The overarching goal of their 14-week culinary program is for graduates to move from dependency to self-sufficiency through stable employment. As of 2020, CCSC currently trains and serves about 50 students and 120 CCSC alumni annually, providing them with training, job placement and referrals to other resources, including housing, low-or no-interest loans, medical and mental health services.
While I toured the kitchen, we ran into current CCSC student, Curtis. I was able to pull him aside and chat with him about his experience at CCSC. He shared how he made some “bad decisions” that brought him to prison where his love for cooking was kindled. When he was released, he wanted to find a way to support himself and do what he loves. His case worker directed him to CCSC’s program and the rest is history. He described a day as a CCSC student as “a beautiful day” - his face lighting up as he shared about how some days he never wanted to leave.
We didn’t want to keep Curtis from his classes, so we quickly wrapped up our chat and headed to the front of the house, where we got to talk to Café Manager, Senico Bennett.
Senico’s past included time in prison, but with CCSC, Senico found a new path; he graduated with Class 53 in 2016, and has been working at CCSC ever since. A self-proclaimed people person, Senico was recently promoted to Café Manager in 2019. A proud new father to a baby girl, Senico now helps train students who are in need of a second chance, exactly the way he was.
As of June 2020, CCSC has graduated 998 students. But their impact extends beyond their culinary training program. It positively impacts students' families, the businesses they work for and create, and the communities in which they live and pay taxes when they join (or rejoin) the work force.
Thanks to generous donations, grants, and contracts from state and county programs, tuition for CCSC’s culinary program is completely covered for students. Outside of direct donations, supporting CCSC and its mission is easy- you can patron their Cafe!
Stop by 9315-D Monroe Road and buy homemade pastries or grab lunch to-go (take-out and curbside pick up options are available!). When it is safe to do so, CCSC will also offer Team Building classes that are great for Corporate Groups, Social Celebrations, and Family Gatherings.
VOTE NOW: Community Culinary School is in the running to win $5K this month thanks to the Amy and Brian France Foundation who have partnered with SHARE Charlotte for this year’s Spotlight Series and YOU can help when you VOTE NOW! You can also check out the other organizations eligible to win this month’s prize, here!