After three years of planning, Vermont Works for Women will launch a culinary training program on September 27 at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington, Vermont’s only prison for women.
Four pilot participants will help “flesh out” details of the 12-week course, said Heather Newcomb, women’s program manager for Vermont Works for Women. Trainees will be selected from among inmate applicants who are already working in the facility’s kitchen.
Bryan Mitofsky, the prison’s food service supervisor, who previously owned Coffee Corner in Montpelier, is codeveloping the curriculum with new hire Sarah Anderson, a trained chef, former caterer and current school nutrition manager for Ferrisburgh Central School. The program will cover a range of cooking styles but focus on preparing trainees to work in schools, hospitals and other institutions.
Funded by a U.S. Department of Justice grant, the pilot will be the facility’s only on-site job-training program, Newcomb said.
Vermont Works for Women helps women and girls explore and pursue careers that lead to economic independence. The Winooski-based nonprofit has long worked with the Vermont Department of Corrections to help build work and employment-planning skills with those incarcerated at Chittenden Regional.
“The more skills they leave with, the more opportunities for employment,” Newcomb said. “Employment is one of the top predictors of whether they will return to incarceration.”
Beyond job training, Newcomb added, for the many “women who have had to leave their families due to addiction and incarceration, learning how to make nutritious meals is empowering and helps rebuild self-worth.”
The new program will resemble Community Kitchen Academy, a Vermont Foodbank partnership program in Burlington and Barre; and the Fresh Food Enterprise training program, which Vermont Works for Women ran in Winooski from 2011 to 2016.
“Food is a very good vehicle for teaching a lot of life lessons,” Newcomb said. “When things don’t work out, like your salad dressing breaks, you learn that mistakes happen. Let’s start over.”