The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s HOPES program provides job opportunities to those in reentry

Participants in the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s HOPES program.

The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation continues to expand its HOPES (Hospitality Opportunities for People Reentering Society) program that offers employment to justice-involved individuals.

It’s a win-win situation for all involved. The restaurant and hospitality industries desperately need workers. And those in reentry desperately need jobs.

Here’s how it came about. The NRAEF launched HOPES in 2019 with two grants – $4.5 million and $4 million – to bring more people into the industry. What began with three states has spread to seven – Massachusetts, Illinois, Virginia, Delaware, Michigan, Ohio and Texas – and has enrolled nearly 800 participants.

Justice-involved population can provide industry talent

“The NRAEF is dedicated to helping people from all walks of life access the training and education they need to carve out a career path in our industry. A few years back, we identified the justice-involved population as an untapped source of industry talent, with many of these individuals looking for a path to independence and career opportunities,” says Patricia Gill, the NRAEF’s director of workforce development. “Built on the framework of our our Restaurant Ready curriculum – which teaches basic job and life skills – we launched HOPES to facilitate an industry-wide effort to equip justice-involved individuals with occupational training, employment connections and advancement opportunities.”

The association partners with community-based organizations that work with local departments of corrections to identify individuals, who are 18-years of age and older, for the HOPES program.

We launched HOPES to facilitate an industry-wide effort to equip justice-involved individuals with occupational training, employment connections and advancement opportunities.

Patricia Gill

“These individuals can currently be in a correctional facility, on parole/probation, or have prior justice-involvement,” she says. “Some DOCs  (Departments of Corrections) offer culinary training and food service experience, so some candidates may already have training, experience or interest. But it is not a requirement. Community-based organizations and DOCs also collaborate to make sure participants have identification, housing and other key items for rejoining their community.”

It currently works with state DOCs in the seven states mentioned above, seven state restaurant associations and 13 community-based organizations.

The HOPES program community-based partners

The community-based partners involved in the HOPES program are:

  • Project New Start (Wilmington, Del.) 
  • Delaware Food Bank (Newark & Dover, Del.) 
  • Lawrence Hall (Chicago, Ill.) 
  • Safer Foundation (Chicago, Ill.) 
  • ABCD (Boston, Mass.) 
  • Community Work Services (Boston, Mass.)
  • Peckham Human Services (Flint & Lansing, Mich.) 
  • Spectrum Human Services/Operation Able (Detroit, Mich.) 
  • Alvis, Inc. (Columbus, Ohio)
  • Food Bank of San Antonio (San Antonio, Texas)
  • Food Bank of Houston (Houston, Texas) 
  • LOC Family Services (Farmville, Va.) 
  • OAR (Richmond, Va.) 

These community-based organizations provide training in six work-ready competency areas using the NRAEF’s Restaurant Ready framework. The competencies include personal responsibility, communication, attitude, learning, customer service and restaurant-industry specific skills. Participants also are able to gain such credentials as ServSafe, as well as access to further training through apprenticeships.

In addition to training, the organizations provide case management and planning for each participant, help place program graduates in jobs and, once employed, offer follow-up support for one year. A network of local employers – restaurants, hotels and catering businesses – offers potential job opportunities, as does the organization’s national partners, which include MOD Pizza, Inspire Brands and Dave’s Killer Bread.

The organizations were carefully chosen. “The NRAEF vetted all community-based organizations, and they were also approved by the U.S. Department of Labor. CBOs were required to demonstrate reentry experience, a solid community reputation, a full range of support services, documented results and organizational capacity to implement the HOPES program,” Gill says.

How to get involved

If your organization is interested in participating in the HOPES program and in an area where a HOPES collaborative has already been developed, the NRAEF can connect you to that community collaborative to see if there is a training or referral or placement role that you might be able to play. If your nonprofit is located in a community where a HOPES collaborative is not yet established, the NRAEF can work with you to identify the justice and state restaurant association partners necessary and to explore the possibility of developing a HOPES community collaborative in your area.

Organizations that are a good fit for this program include justice agencies, community-based organizations, training providers, support service providers, state restaurant associations, potential employers, industry representatives and funders. The most important criteria is an interest in working collaboratively to attract, engage and advance justice-involved individuals in your community.

If you are an individual who wants to participate in an existing HOPES community collaborative, you should reach out directly to the justice, community-based or state restaurant association partner that is the best fit for your interest and area. The NRAEF is happy to make an introduction if you are not already connected to one of the partners in your community. If you are not in an existing HOPES community, you can reach out to the NRAEF to start a discussion (and bring any potential justice, community-based, or state restaurant association partners to the table).

Looking to the future of the HOPES program

Gill says she’s optimistic about the potential of expanding HOPES even further.

“Many departments of corrections (DOCs) offer culinary training and food service experience, all communities have organizations focusing on reentry, and several other state restaurant associations have expressed interest in focusing more intentionally on these talented individuals. For example, Colorado received a state-specific grant to implement HOPES and the NRAEF is providing support to those efforts,” she says. With the addition of this new grant, Gill expects enrollment to expand to more than 1,000 participants from the current number of about 800.

The importance of the HOPES program

What does all of this mean for the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation?

“HOPES has exceeded our expectations in almost every way possible – from success stories of individual participants who say the program has set them on a path they didn’t know was possible to employer partners who say they’ve gained some of their most promising employees. We’re incredibly excited to be part of an industry-wide effort that’s making a big difference in so many lives,” says Gill.

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One Comment

  1. Unless society has the attitude of trust and boosting the image of the job industry and not a threat to the image of a industry the same old … attitude of lock them up and throw the key still exists no amount of grants and scholarships will change the perception once a felon always a felon. Been there done that.

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