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Recipe for success: Kitchen program gets cooking at U.S. Vets

Veteran William Knapp stirs a pot of soup in the commercial kitchen at the Prescott U.S. Vets facility in Prescott. Knapp has been working with Food Services Manager Carolyn Baca to organize the facility’s kitchen. (Patrick Whitehurst/The Daily Courier)

Veteran William Knapp stirs a pot of soup in the commercial kitchen at the Prescott U.S. Vets facility in Prescott. Knapp has been working with Food Services Manager Carolyn Baca to organize the facility’s kitchen. (Patrick Whitehurst/The Daily Courier)

PRESCOTT - While breakfast, lunch and dinner is provided for veterans enrolled in the Prescott U.S. Vets program by the Coalition for Compassion and Justice's Open Door program, veterans may soon be cooking at the Gurley Street facility for themselves.

Annette Olson, executive director for the Prescott U.S. Vets organization, said a new culinary arts program is taking flight, which would allow for veterans to train in, and learn, how to cook in a commercial kitchen.

The organization moved its homeless transitional program from the Prescott VA campus to a location on Gurley Street earlier this year. The new facility offers veterans 56 beds, a meeting area, commons and a commercial kitchen.

"We decided that, after our move, we would work on turning this commercial kitchen into a culinary arts vocational rehabilitation program," Olson said. "Part of what we do with our transitional housing program is help our veterans find work and give them the skills they need to find work in the community."

Training offered through U.S. Vets includes resume development, interviewing skills and more. Their on-site "Dress for Success" closet also provides clothes veterans can wear to interviews.

"We already have the workforce development program in place, so what we want to do is grow that and include the kitchen by turning it into a culinary arts program," Olson said.

Currently the organization is seeking funding assistance to begin detailed program development in the culinary field, such as developing a curriculum and coordinating with local restaurant employers.

"Because Prescott is largely based on tourism, there's a lot of work in the restaurant industry here, especially during the busy seasons," Olson said.

The local organization has recently hired kitchen restaurant manager Carolyn Baca to oversee food service at the Gurley Street facility, as part of a dual Safeway and Arizona Public Service grant. Baca's job includes training residents on how to prepare food in the commercial-sized kitchen.

"All of the residents working in our kitchen have their food handlers license," Olson said.

Olson and her staff are working with the county on certification that would officially license the facility as a commercial kitchen.

"Once we get all those things in place, then eventually we'll start preparing all of our own meals and we can grow the training program from just serving to preparing food and work on things like customer service skills, marketing, planning, health codes, culinary skills, menu planning and regulations," Olson said.

An Ameri-Corps Vista member will also begin soon, she added. That member will be tasked with designing and implementing the culinary program.

"We also have a Prescott College intern that's going to design a garden for us and we're going to invite chefs from the community to offer workshops," Olson said. "There's a community environment at the facility now that allows for other neat things to go on, like the guest chefs, classes and more."

Veteran William Knapp has been helping Baca set up and organize the kitchen.

"I think it's been going well. It's a learning process," Knapp said. "I'm in the process of learning from Carolyn and teaching the other residents that are hoping to use the kitchen. They come in and do dishes, help serve the food and we watch them to make sure everything's being done right."

For more information on U.S. Vets, visit www.usvetsinc.org/prescott.

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