At JOBS, Kenmore women are cooking toward careers

 words and photos by Colleen Hanke

The process of getting your first job might seem simple enough: you apply, interview and begin to flip burgers, deliver pizzas or complete other entry level tasks. 

This process becomes more complicated when you add in another variable: being a young mother.

Jump On Board for Success, or JOBS, is a program designed to help teenage and young mothers who need help securing and keeping a job. Through a partnership with Kenmore Neighborhood Alliance, the program recently received a two year grant for $150,000 from the Caresource Foundation.

Karen Freeman, a co-founder of JOBS, realized that the main issue young mothers were encountering was getting and staying in a job. 

This led her to begin coaching women in how to pick up a job application and ace a job interview. If the woman needs to achieve a certain level of education, whether that be finishing high school or entering college, JOBS helps them through the process.

The issues the women at JOBS face ranges from not interviewing well to a lack of education to a disruptive family life.

It can be difficult not only to find a job, but to keep it, Karen says. Oftentimes, clients would not realize why they were being fired, not be able to afford childcare, or the situation would simply be out of their control. 

“We realized that they would get hired at Taco Bell one week and they would come back next week and they had lost their job, like, how do you get fired from Taco Bell?” says Karen. “But they were, and they just couldn’t hang onto jobs. And they didn’t interview well. So they just lacked all the skills.”

In one case, a woman’s alcoholic father repeatedly called the workplace, showed up unexpectedly and caused problems. The employer fired her without knowing the background of the situation.

Mentors work with JOBS women during the hiring process and as they get settled in to new jobs. “In a perfect world, the mentors would be able to meet with the girl when she gets hired into a job, to introduce themselves to her employer, to say ‘Hey, she’s a part of this JOBS program. If something happens with her where she doesn’t perform up to your expectations, let us know as well so the three of us can work out the problem,’” says Karen. “Instead of having them lose their job, maybe we can instruct them in ways to keep it.”

For mothers seeking a job in the culinary field, JOBS offers Culinary Skills, a program of cooking lessons that leads to a ServSafe certification — an important qualification for getting jobs in kitchens.

Jennifer Herrick, a Kenmore chef, takes groups of women under her wing and teaches them everything from kitchen basics to how to prepare dishes from Haiti and Africa.

Jennifer got involved with JOBS while looking for a way to utilize the very formal culinary skills she learned at the University of Akron’s culinary program.

“My skill sets are so unique that I’m like, ‘what can I do other than like… basically, cook for funerals?’” Jennifer says. “I came into Karen’s office with this half-baked idea of, ‘What do you think about me teaching the girls to cook? Maybe they can learn how to budget, learn how to make some things that they can freeze and stuff like that.’ I hadn’t fully worked it all out, and she’s like, ‘Yeah, sounds great, run with it. Create it, go for it.’ And I did.”

The Culinary Skills classes consist of three six-week courses that include basic knife and kitchen skills, how to prepare various recipes from abroad and how a professional chef runs their kitchen. In the final weeks of the course, the students are taken to local restaurants to see how an active kitchen is run. 

The mentorship aspect of the program is where the mothers receive support and advice. The mentor-mentee relationships formed at JOBS are very close. The support they receive from their mentor is as important as the skills they learn in the kitchen.

“We’re so close. Like, I know her credit score. I can yell at her like I’m her mom, you know?” says Jennifer of her mentee. “Most of these girls don’t have that support system from home. So they need that, they need that structure of somebody checking in on them and someone listening to their problems and not just judging them, like, ‘Okay, yeah, you screwed up, but let’s figure a way to fix it, not make this mistake again.’”

Karen and Jennifer describe the mentorship process as based on a trusting relationship without judgment. The mentors act as role models as well as career advisors.

All of the skills that the women at JOBS learn in the kitchen help them in other aspects of their life. They learn about responsibility, budgeting and organization, which can be applied inside and outside the kitchen.

When the women graduate from the program, they are ServSafe certified for jobs working with food. They can then add this certification to their resume, increasing their chances of employment.

Since JOBS began in 2014, dozens of young mothers have worked with the program to become more successful in their careers and personal lives.

If the mothers are not interested in the culinary field, JOBS will set them up with a mentor who has experience in their desired field. They are currently working with women interested in nursing, helping them prepare for Children’s Hospital’s career launch program.

JOBS will soon begin staffing Lil’ Bit Cafe, which is slated to open on Kenmore Boulevard in the near future. 

Lil’ Bit Cafe will cater The Devil Strip’s New Year’s Eve party at The Rialto Theatre on Dec. 31. Tickets are $40 and include an ownership share in The Devil Strip for 2020. Tickets:

Colleen Hanke is a Media Studies student at The University of Akron.