Fresh Abilities sees first round of employees advance to secure other jobs

When you order a salad from Fresh Abilities, it isn’t just another meal. It’s becoming a path to permanent employment for the restaurant staff.

Located in Downtown Springfield’s COhatch – The Market and launched just over a year ago, Fresh Abilities was established to create a pipeline for workers interested in the food service industry. And despite setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, two employees of Fresh Abilities have been placed in permanent positions: first with Schuler’s Bakery and most recently Wendy’s.

“It’s really the beginning of the pathway and getting first-hand, real-world experience,” says Bridget Doane, director of development with The Abilities Connection (TAC) Industries. “The intent of Fresh Abilities is for (employees) to gain experience and evaluate if they want to continue in food service. If so, they work with local partners to find job availability in local restaurants.”

TAC Industries is an organization in Springfield that employs, connects and care for adults with disabilities.

Following their work at Fresh Abilities, the next step in the pipeline was to give team members experience in other food service businesses to expand their skills and help them feel comfortable looking for and securing employment in a community business, Doane says.

Individuals working at Fresh Abilities now have the opportunity to also receive paid training experience at Schuler’s with the end goal to be securing permanent employment at Schuler’s or any other food establishment in the community.

“The Schuler’s paid training opportunity is a wonderful next step in the Fresh Abilities food service training pipeline,” Doane says. “We are grateful to Development Disabilities of Clark County for helping connect us with Schuler’s. Fresh Abilities provides food service training and ServSafe certification for individuals who are interested in working in food service. After completing their training, they begin employment at Fresh Abilities to gain experience.”

As businesses begin to reopen, Doane says there is a new surge in hiring for restaurants.

Employees at Fresh Abilities work side-by-side with persons with no disabilities in an industry that requires quality, dependable, friendly and skilled manpower. Employees of Fresh Abilities receive ServSafe Level One food safety certification followed by a syllabus-based training program with over 110 hours of documented training in all aspects of restaurant operations.

“Fresh Abilities is important for the people who work here because it gives everyone the chance to get out of their comfort zone and boost their confidence, helping them to succeed in the workforce and to eventually find permanent employment in the community,” says Marlee Lloyd, restaurant manager at Fresh Abilities. “I think it helps the community learn more about people with disabilities, and the abilities they have.”

The range of topics covered in the Fresh Abilities training includes: safe food handling, proper food preparation, storage and temperature management, cleanliness, customer service, point of sale system training and use, online order fulfillment and online delivery service order fulfillment. Training as Assistant Store Managers is also part of the program.

About 10 people are currently in the Fresh Abilities training program, Doane says. The restaurant features a selection of salads all made with lettuce grown in TAC’s hydroponic garden.

“I like working with my friends and co-workers,” says Fresh Abilities employee Tonya Williams. “My bosses are nice, too. I like making salads. It is hard sometimes, but I am learning.”

Doane says community reception has been wonderful and exactly what Fresh Abilities and TAC were hoping for in terms of bringing the community together with the people they serve.

“We wanted to make sure we were integrating the people we are working with to build relationships with others in the community,” she says.

Now that Fresh Abilities is able to see how the pipeline is progressing and people are moving into permanent employment, the company is making sure to fill more positions and identify individuals who have this interest and a goal, Doane says.

“We weren’t sure how things would look like after (the COVID) shut-down but we have found that the demand is greater … for finding the right employees who are dedicated to being there,” she says. “We know there is a need for the people we are sending through the pipeline. We are identifying those people and making sure they are well-qualified to be as successful as possible when hired on.”

In the future, Doane says TAC would like to open additional restaurants like Fresh Abilities but wants to solidify program at COhatch first.
 
“We want to thank the community for being supportive,” Doane says. “They are making this possible and giving the opportunity to the people working there. They are giving them the chance to learn these skills, and we are looking forward to identifying more restaurants and businesses in the community looking for qualified and skilled employees.”

Read more articles by Darci Jordan.

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