Non-profit aids former prisoners through culinary arts

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Non-profit aids former prisoners through culinary arts
Image Credit: EDWINS
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Clark Howard Radio Show producer Kim Drobes featured Cleveland-based non-profit EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute on an episode of her Clark.com podcast The Empowerment Zone back in early June.

This institute teaches formerly incarcerated people cooking and hospitality skills in a French fine dining restaurant during a six month course. The students learn how to succeed in a demanding restaurant environment and hopefully obtain skills that provide them opportunities for advancement in their lives.

EDWINS recently hosted an event, La Grande Soiree, where the restaurant hosted an auction and featured food and cocktails prepared and served by EDWINS students.

Everyone was eager to share how EDWINS has impacted them. One student, Preston Sanders, said that the two months he’s been in the program has been the best experience of his life. “After seven years in prison hopefully this changes my life and my kids’ lives,” Sanders said.

EDWINS’ students pose as they prepare for La Grande Soiree

His sentiment was echoed by other students, and seems to stem from a sense of accomplishment from the community and practical skills taught by EDWINS. “The instant gratification you feel when people love your service or what you make is the best,” said Donovan M., another current student.

Other students gain similar satisfaction simply by learning the restaurant’s cooking methods. Karen Webb said her favorite lesson so far has been “learning how to make things from scratch, especially sauces.” Karen said she doesn’t like to buy canned sauces anymore because she can now make a sauce from scratch that tastes so much better.

The atmosphere of motivation and pride is everywhere at EDWINS, as evidenced on a kitchen wall that says, “Today we will win. We’ll study our mistakes and become stronger. We will win. Each day. We will win.”

“I get to educate the community and help the students change their lives,” said Community Engagement Coordinator Derrick Speights. EDWINS also provides a stable environment for their students, who are able to live next to the EDWINS Life Skills Center in an apartment building owned by the non-profit.

The skills center has a community room filled with cookbooks and a kitchenette, as well as a fitness center and locker rooms. There’s also a room filled with donations that any student can shop in to personalize their home or apartment. There’s even a chicken coop and basketball court behind the buildings.

EDWINS has projects in the works to open shops along the street next to the Center. The first will be a butcher shop — they have already gutted the space and are securing funding to continue the renovation that will include a butcher counter, a dining area, and practical classrooms. In the longer term, EDWINS spokespeople have said they’d like to grow their campus to include a cheese shop, fishmonger, a bakery, and more.

The mission to help people re-enter society after being incarcerated is important to reduce repeat offenses. Statistically, EDWINS graduates are far more likely to remain out of prison, with a recidivism rate between 1 and 2%. If you would like to donate, apply for the program or make a reservation, visit their site here.

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Beth  Marcinko About the author:
Beth loves to save on clothing and travel. She also enjoys cooking, hosting and television — just don't ask her to pick a favorite. She happily lives in Atlanta despite the humidity and traffic.
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