Homeless striving for self-sufficiency train to be kitchen stewards

It’s not every day you can trade a truck for training, but when Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada and the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas saw the opportunity, they took it.

In return for Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada’s donation of the truck, the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas agreed to provide classes for Catholic Charities clients, homeless people who are trying to get back on their feet. The agreement is set to provide classes equaling the value of the truck.

The academy participates in the Nevada Department of Education’s Summer Food Service Program, providing nutritious meals for disadvantaged youths. The truck is set to be used to support that program.

“We’ve been working with Catholic Charities for a while now on things like the Project Homeless event,” said Chris Fava, the academy’s chief executive officer. The first group of six clients-turned-students attended a ceremony Feb. 14 at the academy, where deacon Thomas A. Roberts turned the truck over to Fava. “Our courses are inexpensive,” said Polly Bates, director of communications for the Culinary Academy. “We hope to be able to provide classes for 20 to 30 individuals.”

The six students come from Catholic Charities’ programs, including the Resident Empowerment program and the Homeless to Home program.

“The people in the Resident Empowerment program are homeless males who have come to live with us and step by step get back on their feet,” said Leslie Carmine, media and community relations director for Catholic Charities. “Eventually, they’ll get a job and work toward self-sufficiency.”

Homeless to Home is similar but designed for people with families, such as trainee Crystal Jones, a single mother of three who was homeless for the last two years, spending that time moving her family from place to place, mostly couch surfing.

“It was rough. We relied on a lot of people letting us stay with them,” Jones said. “I worked odds and ends, in things like retail and warehouses, but I wasn’t making it.”

Last month, Catholic Charities settled Jones and her children in a three-bedroom apartment in Sunrise Manor and provided her with furniture and a bus pass. She began training as a kitchen steward Feb. 17, learning how to keep large restaurant kitchens clean to meet health department standards.

“This time, I’m going for the career, and hopefully, everything is going to be OK,” she said.

Once the clients complete their training, the academy helps them secure a position with one of their 26 hotel partners.

“Their success is our success,” Fava said. “We’re going to work hard to develop these individuals and get them placed in hotels.”

Once the trainees have held a position for six months, they will qualify to return to the academy for further education.

“They can come back and take a different class and upgrade a different skill set,” Fava said. “That’s a benefit to all the employees covered under the collective bargaining agreement of the 26 hotel partners.”

The Culinary Academy of Las Vegas is a joint venture between the Culinary Local 226, Bartenders Local 165 and 26 resort corridor hotels. The academy offers low-cost training for 11 job classifications.

The 11 jobs for which the academy offers training include baker’s assistant, housekeeping, professional cook and sommelier.

The training can take weeks or months, depending on the course.

Meanwhile, the truck will be pressed into service immediately for the Summer Food Service Program.

“We’re going to get the truck on the street right away,” Fava said. “It’s in great shape. It’s going to allow us the opportunity to feed thousands of children.”

Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at or 702-380-4532.

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