CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Jawann Blair has a full-time job at Tom & Chee. He admits he wouldn’t be there without help.
“I went to school,” Blair said. “It didn’t pan out. To be honest, I didn’t have anything planned. All I knew was football.”
Now he knows about preparing food. It’s thanks to a program supported by BLOC Ministries and Kroger.
Blair is one of 10 students who graduated from the BLOC Teaching Kitchen. The program is designed for people ages 16 to 24 who dropped out of high school. It started seven months ago and is open to anyone, though they focus on helping kids in the Price Hill neighborhood, where the kitchen is located.
Brieana Byrnside is only three days into the eight-week program. She works as a line cook and hopes to work in a restaurant.
“Being a single mom, it definitely will help to bring more money in because it’s only my income,” Byrnside said.
Byrnside says what makes this program special is that they not only get a ServSafe Certification, but the costs are covered and then some.
“The ServSafe test, it costs money to obtain it,” Byrnside said. “We get paid to come here, so you are not just working for two months while you are training.”
One of the real-world training places is at the BLOC Coffee Shop on Mt. Hope Avenue in East Price Hill. It’s one of 22 programs run by BLOC Ministries.
The job placement rate for graduates of the BLOC Teaching Kitchen is 100%. A big reason for the program is because of Kroger. Not only did the grocery giant donate $40,000 to fund the program, they’re hiring grads.
Chris Staser is the director of ministry operations for BLOC.
“Anyone who graduates, they are willing to give an interview at one of their community stores,” Staser said.
When the new downtown Kroger location opened, Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen presented Staser with a big check.
Some of the students also work under Chef Susan Ruhe, who uses them for the special events and catering side of BLOC.
“The challenges they face are remarkable,” Ruhe said. “Every time they are here, they come with a good spirit and a smile on their face. They are eager and anxious to learn.”
A new phase of the program allows students at Dohn High School to earn lost credits by graduating from the BLOC Teaching Kitchen.
The program is turning food into the ingredient that’s binding a community together in the fight against childhood poverty.