SARASOTA/BRADENTON, FL – Many veterans working to rebuild their lives after military service may find themselves lacking the education or job training skills to succeed. Additionally, they often face emotional and/or physical challenges resulting from active duty – these can hinder veterans in their efforts to reintegrate into their families, communities and jobs.
The Vet2Chef program was created in 2014 by Bryan Jacobs, a Marine who fell upon hard times and became homeless after his military service was done. It was created to target veterans who have served their country honorably but have lost their way in the civilian world. Vet2Chef is a program of the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee but Goodwill Manasota has been a partner, along with Jewish Family & Children’s Service; the current iteration of Vet2Chef is a pilot program tailored to homeless veterans. Program partners are currently seeking funding to re-open the offering to all veterans in the community.
On June 5, nine veterans who are enrolled in Goodwill’s Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program began the 12-week certification course. The program opens with five full days of training at USF’s culinary lab. Upon completing the first week, each veteran will be interviewed by area restauranteurs, including John Horne of Anna Maria Oyster Bar, Steve Seidensticker of Libby’s Cafe + Bar and Louies Modern, Mike Quillen of Gecko’s Grill & Pub, and others, and offered jobs at their respective restaurants.
For the remaining 11 weeks, as the veterans work full-time, one day per week will be dedicated to classes with Jacobs at the culinary lab. Jacobs will tailor his instruction to the menus of the participating restaurants. Each veteran is expected to have a starting wage of approximately $12 an hour, with the potential of earning upwards of $60,000 annually once they have completed continuing education courses with USFSM.
Jacobs was a 2nd Marine Division Battlefield Paramedic who served two tours in Iraq. Upon his return to civilian life, Jacobs floundered, moving from job to job and battling a drinking problem. One day, he woke up with a new resolve and – with inspiration born of cooking as a child with his grandfather, who was a chef – enrolled in culinary school in Virginia. Once he graduated from culinary school, Jacobs had the opportunity to work with renowned chefs, including Hans Schadler, and Master Chef Peter Timmins. He graduated from USFSM with a Bachelor’s in Hospitality, while acting as the executive chef for the Anheuser Busch family.
In May of 2014, Jacobs’ younger brother, Kevin, who served in the Marines and also struggled after his discharge from the military, took his own life. From that day forward, Jacobs made it his personal goal to help his military brothers and sisters who were struggling and change their lives; Vet2Chef is dedicated to Kevin’s memory.
“We often don’t take the time to understand everyone’s scars – some are visible and some are not; most often, those whom are scarred inside never truly heal,” Jacobs said. “Vet2Chef was created to help heal these wounds and help veterans who are homeless and displaced find themselves as well as infuse direction, passion and purpose into their lives and the communities in which they live.”
Goodwill’s Veterans Services Program, which is staffed by veterans, offers access to employment preparation courses, educational and technical skills classes, and work resources, all aimed at helping veterans to find meaningful employment so that they may advance beyond their military careers and regain a sense of pride, dignity and purpose. One-on-one guidance is provided, and program trainers match job seekers with job opportunities through targeted recruitment services and job fairs.
“Training veterans for skilled trades is a vital investment in our community,” said C.J. Bannister, director of Goodwill’s Veterans Services Program. “Millions of dollars are spent to train our armed forces personnel – they are lost assets if we do not find a way to repurpose those skills. Through innovative efforts like the Vet2Chef program, we are working to build confidence and make connections for veterans so that they can embark on new and fulfilling careers.”
For more information about Goodwill’s Veterans Services Program, go to experiencegoodwill.org or call (941) 355-2721, ext. 451.
About Goodwill Manasota
Goodwill Manasota is an industry-leading, 501(c)(3), not-for-profit organization that changes lives through the power of work. With the sales of donated goods and philanthropic donations, Goodwill is able to assist people with disabilities and other barriers to employment by providing job skills training and employment opportunities. In 2016, Goodwill Manasota served 28,207 people, placed 755 people in jobs and assisted 240 veterans as they reintegrated back into the civilian workforce. Goodwill Manasota’s economic impact back to the community is worth $92.1 million. Goodwill is one of the pioneers of the reduce-reuse-recycle movement and this past year diverted more than 40 million pounds out of the landfill. We accomplish our mission through a network of Good Neighbor Centers in Sarasota, Manatee, Hardee and DeSoto counties and our Mission Development Services (MDS) around North America. Goodwill Manasota is accountable to a local Board of Directors. Goodwill Manasota, in essence, belongs to this community and is not owned by any individual or company. For more information, visit www.experiencegoodwill.org.