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Pilot restaurant program hopes to address recidivism

Katie Tabeling
The Delaware Restaurant Association can celebrate its first HOPES graduate who has tapped into a restaurant apprenticeship.

Food Bank of Delaware Chef Instructor Chris Montgomery, left, poses with Clarissa Haglid. Haglid completed the culinary program through the HOPES program, a federally-funded pilot program launched in four states, including Delaware. | PHOTO COURTESY OF DELAWARE RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION

NEWARK — When Clarissa Haglid crossed the stage at the Food Bank of Delaware culinary school graduation, she took another step in a long journey in finding her way in the world.

Haglid is a product of the pilot Hospitality Opportunities for People (Re)Entering Society (HOPES) program, an initiative aimed at helping people transition out of incarceration to the workforce. After four years at Baylor’s Women’s Correctional Institution, she enrolled in HOPES and later sprung into an apprenticeship in the kitchen at the Embassy Suites in Newark.

It’s been a long road, and overwhelming at times. But she says she hasn’t walked it alone: the HOPES program offered the support through a network at the Delaware Restaurant Association, the Department of Education and other partners.

“It’s almost like having bumper guards in case I fall. I’d say the HOPES program offers the education to restructure your life,” Haglid told the Delaware Business Times. “I think I would be struggling a little more without it. It’s a lifeline for people reentering society.”

For the Delaware Restaurant Association, Haglid’s graduation represents more than a success story. It represents a possible hope for the pilot program. Once Haglid completes her apprenticeship, she will be the first HOPES participant in the country to leverage the program into a new career path.

Since the HOPES Program is funded through a federal grant, the DRA plans on working with state legislators and agencies to find funding to keep it going.

“We believe this is something special in addressing recidivism in this state. Our rate in Delaware is way worse than the national average, and that’s a loud statement,” said Raelynn Grogran, the executive director of the DRA Foundation “Having the right program and the right people in place just means you will see success.”

Clarissa Haglid embraces the next step in her career as she has now graduated from the culinary program at the Food Bank of Delaware. | PHOTO COURTESY OF DELAWARE RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION

Fresh start

In 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor announced $4 million in funding to the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation for the HOPES program in four states. Delaware, with a recidivism rate of 65% when last recorded in 2016, was able to launch a pilot.

In DRA Senior Director of Communications and Strategy Karen Stauffer’s eyes, the program almost formalizes a natural path for people reentering society.

“Restaurants are already the place for second and third chances,” Grogran said. “For a lot of people starting their first jobs as teenagers, this is where they go. Like Carrie [Leishman, President CEO of the DRA] says, ‘You can’t just jump into the banking industry, there’s a lot of checks and education you need.’ Our industry is a lot more open, and you can jump in at whatever point in life.”

The DRA also could easily tap into its network of 450 hospitality members that covers 2,500 locations in the First State to see the interest. What Grogan found was employers were more willing to hire someone reentering society with a support system. 

Across the state, there were 20 employers across the state interested in HOPES with 50 locations. About 41 people were matched with community organizations to start the HOPES program.  Five people have been connected to employment post-release.

“A big thing with this program is the supportive services provision, with case manager support and a network that can catch them before something happens,” Grogran said. “In some cases, they could be heading back to the same situation they were before and trying to get their bearings.”

For example, there was another HOPES candidate who was thriving with her partnered restaurant, but she had a setback. After completing rehab, she was able to return to the same job.

“It’s a partnership with our employers and community-based organizations to make sure they’re set up for success,” Stauffer said. “There’s just so much that we’re trying to make sure people are educated on. The basic things, like a form of ID and transportation, can serve as a barrier.”

Haglid, when she was at Baylor, was used to the structure of being told what to do by the corrections officer and living by a set schedule – although there was some wiggle room for things like taking a high school biology course to help her son with his studies. But when she was released in May, she said she was overwhelmed when a cashier at a Rite Aid asked if she wanted a paper bag.

“I broke down in tears over that. I was coming into a world that was too big for me, and there were so many people around,” she said.

A new HOPE

Haglid always had a knack for cooking and somehow always found herself in the kitchen. Even at Baylor, she worked in the kitchen with meal prep. She heard about the HOPES program, and more importantly, the option to get a culinary degree. 

“That to me was all I knew. I was going to get a culinary degree and get a job. That was the future, and it was about success. I don’t feel like I’ve ever completed anything,” Haglid said. “It was something for me to actually grab a hold of, something that was mine, and something my sons can be proud of.”

While in the Food Bank’s culinary program, she honed her knife skills and worked on converting measurements and worked on more skills while keeping in touch with her HOPES case manager. 

While she was attending class, DRA Workforce Development Coordinator Ruthann Messick came by and gave a presentation on hospitality sector registered apprenticeships. It was like Messick was speaking directly to her and “the whole room disappeared,” Haglid said.

It’s rare that a student at the Food Bank of Delaware’s culinary program can work at the same time, but Haglid did manage the workload. After her first placement didn’t work out, she started work as a line cook at the Embassy Suites.

“I do see myself staying here for a while, but my end goal is to be a head chef. But I’d love to start at the bottom and work my way up because I have a lot to learn,” she said. 

As an apprentice, she does a lot of meal prep for stations like the omelet station and score chicken. But she doesn’t mind, because “you just have to take it one day at a time.”

The hospitality sector registered apprenticeship is offered in a few states. At the end of the year-long process, she will be recognized as a journeyman by the U.S. Department of Labor.

In the meantime, while Haglid has been cooking, she’s also been speaking out about her story. She’s met with Delaware Technical Community College President Mark Brainard and Gov. John Carney to talk about fighting recidivism. She also spoke at the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s Hospitality Pathways Conference in 2023. One day, she hopes to have her own TEDTalk.

But at the end of the day, Haglid says the goal is still pretty simple: make her two sons, ages 16 and 13, proud.

“I missed a few of their years, and I haven’t had the chance to show them something positive. It’s important to show them something tangible that I can do that they can be proud of,” she said.

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