Governor Mary Fallin, Workforce and State Leaders Congratulate Culinary Arts Graduates

OKLAHOMA CITY — Governor Mary Fallin joined Executive Director of The Employment and Education Ministry (TEEM) Kris Steele and other members of the newly formed Work Ready Oklahoma (WRO) at TEEM’s facility today to honor graduates of a new culinary arts program offered through WRO.

The WRO initiative is funded through a grant awarded to It’s My Community Initiative through the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration. These funds provide training materials from CareerTech, kitchen tools, uniforms, supplies, and more. 

“I appreciate the collaboration of all of the partners who have come together to form Work Ready Oklahoma and make programs like this a success,” said Fallin. “Providing educational and career opportunities for offenders who are about to leave state custody helps them quickly get back on their feet when they are released. Having a job and the ability to provide for themselves and their families also gives them a sense of pride and purpose.” 

The graduates of the culinary arts program are offenders serving time at the Kate Barnard Community Corrections Center in Oklahoma City. The offenders are the first graduates of the six-week program, allowing them to earn a certificate through Oklahoma’s ServSafe program, qualifying them to work at numerous restaurants statewide.

The program began on August 24, 2015, with classroom instruction at TEEM. After weeks of classroom work, students participated in hands-on instruction from WRO’s Culinary Arts Instructor Sharon Grier in TEEM’s kitchen. Students produce two meals daily and learn the essentials of prepping, preparing, and cooking various types of food.

“This culinary arts program is an investment in our community,” said Sandino L. Thompson, Executive Director of It’s My Community Initiative. “Through this strong collaborative, Work Ready Oklahoma is able to deliver trainings that are responsive to the unique needs of the incarcerated while preparing them for successful, stable employment outcomes.”

 In addition to the culinary arts program, in September, seven offenders at the Oklahoma City Community Corrections Center completed a six-week welding course from the Skills Center Mobile Welding Program through WRO. 

“We are continuing to identify tangible job training that will align WRO participants with successful careers upon their release from Oklahoma prisons,” TEEM Executive Director Kris Steele said. “Employment continues to be a major factor in successful reentry for participants. By addressing root issues that lead to incarceration and incorporating career credentialing and assistance, participants gain necessary tools for successful reentry.”

Corrections Director Robert Patton praised the WRO program and said it is a great way for offenders to equip themselves with the tools necessary to pursue a life on the outside and chart a new path forward.

“These programs are helping offenders gain access to options that at one point in time may not have been available to them,” said Patton. “This is giving them hope and showing them there is a different life out there for them than what they previously knew.”

To address the rising obstacles incarcerated individuals face upon release, Oklahoma CareerTech, a comprehensive statewide system focused on developing a world-class workforce, implemented more industry-standard credentials in WRO’s service model.

Greg Dewald, superintendent of the CareerTech Skills Centers division, said the program is the first of its kind for the state of Oklahoma.

“This comprehensive program is revolutionary for our state and a true collaboration between all departments and organizations involved,” Dewald said. “This initiative was created with one goal in mind: to put men and women of our community to work. We achieved results with the welding component and we are on pace to achieve the same goals through our culinary arts program.” 

In addition to training in culinary arts, participants are also receiving employment assistance from TEEM and WRO’s Job Placement Coordinators. Students receive interview training and resume building assistance to reinforce culinary training.

After completing the job search component of the program, students qualify for an additional twelve months of case management services that address common reentry challenges. Through weekly follow-ups with their case managers, issues surrounding employment, housing, and transportation needs are addressed.

Criteria for offenders to get involved in the program are based on personal conduct, time remaining, and desire to remain in Oklahoma County upon release. For more information on TEEM, please contact Lance Evans at levans@teem.org or by calling (405) 235-5671.