Cooking with Confidence

Jeffrey Schmitz loves the equipment, the heat and the team hustle of working in a professional kitchen.

As a participant in Unity Employment Services, he had tried many jobs. But even though his favorite jobs were in food service, he hadn’t worked in a kitchen since he had a bad experience a few years ago.

Then, Jeffrey began a class through UES’s new Career-Specific Vocational Training program.

“He was hesitant at first, but I could tell he had an itch for food service,” said Vocational Services Coordinator Steven Hurst. “He ended up being just a wonderful fit for the class.”

As Jeffrey gained new skills in food prep and kitchen management, he also gained confidence, Steven said. Jeffrey even bought his own French chef knife so he could practice his cutting skills outside of class time.

After graduating from the training program, Jeffrey began an internship through the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities. The state pays Jeffrey’s wages for up to 12 hours a week over 12 weeks, with Steven as his on-site job coach. In May, Jeffrey started working as a line cook at the Holiday Inn in Auburn, and he has been flourishing, said UES Director Amanda McManus.

“He’s cooking the food, he’s prepping, he’s plating,” she said. “He’s rotating stock and keeping the kitchen in order.”

Holiday Inn Food and Beverage Manager Mindy Sheftic said she wishes all of her workers were like Jeffrey.

“He’s always happy to be here and he takes a lot of pride in what he does,” Mindy said. “His presentation of the food is better than my regular line cook, to be honest.”

Mindy said she hopes Jeffrey can stay on after the internship concludes. Jeffrey said he’d like that a lot.

“The best part is when someone says, ‘Jeff, you did a good job today,’” Jeffrey said. “I’m glad when I hear that.”