Focus on Food Gives At-Risk Youth A New Lease on Life in Florida
By Dana Razzano, Internet Reporter

Through the Culinary Education and Training for At-Risk Youth (CETARY) Project at-risk youth in Florida may never look at food the same. It is no longer just a way to stop a grumbling stomach, but a means to keep youth away from crime and thrive in the working world. CETARY was developed in 1988 by E.W. Smith as a response to the rising rate of local juvenile crime and to get young people on track toward a successful life and career. "We give [students] a sense of ownership using food," said Smith, Executive Director of CETARY. "They get to see what they can create and what their classmates make and how."

Smith strongly believes it is the responsibility of higher education institutions to become more involved in community without compromising their own standards or mission. He likens the role of higher education to being the Star Trek mother ship and says, "every now and then we have to send a small, mission-driven ship out to see what is going on and what we can do to help."

CETARY was Smith's way to help. Using Johnson & Wales University's North Florida Campus, which has one of the largest culinary arts programs in the world, CETARY program participants work in a top-quality, professional atmosphere. The co-educational, nine-month culinary arts certificate program focuses extensively on culinary training in addition to a strong emphasis on life skills that students can use anywhere. At its best, the CETARY Project may encourage a lifelong passion and career for students. At the least, it provides training for students to earn a stable income instead of turning to crime, Smith said.

Getting Started 

During the initial development of the program, "I asked juvenile justice officials to give us 20 to 25 youths and said we will give them a new awakening; expose them to things that will dazzle their eyes," said Smith. Exposing students to this new industry doesn't come without some challenges. According to Smith, it is sometimes necessary to change the ideas and concepts surrounding food preparation in order to be more appealing to students. "We have to take the idea of food and turn it into art. We have to change our language from food to culinary." 

Regardless of the language used to describe the industry, the main focus of CETARY is getting students involved in a viable and developing profession. "The hospitality and food service industry is one of the fastest growing services," said Smith. "Families are spending less time in the kitchen and more time eating out. It is becoming a way of life for families. This is an extremely sustainable industry. You don't have to have a master's degree or even a baccalaureate degree to succeed. If you feel that you can be a great artist with food, this is a wide open field." 

The CETARY Project boasts a 98 percent placement rate for graduates and holds close partnerships with many large chain-restaurants, hotels and resorts that eagerly look for capable employees. Smith said that CETARY has a "targeted interest" in the development of these students and this industry. "Industry is our customer; students are our products," he said.

These "products" are well-rounded and equipped with more than just culinary skills. Instructors take time out from standard culinary training to have speakers inform students on issues ranging from punctuality and personal character, to their own presentation and the value of diversity in the workplace. According to Smith, students are taught about what kind of behavior will and will not be tolerated in the professional world. Another way CETARY participants are encouraged to prosper outside of class is through the Students Against Nicotine and Drugs (SAND) Program, organized by the Miami Beach High School. Students from the high school visit CETARY to speak to their peers about the risk of drugs and encourage their participation in the organization.

Embracing Responsibility 

According to Smith, responsibility is one of the major components of CETARY and the curriculum is strategically designed for students to work in pairs. Students know what the next day's menu will be and what items they are scheduled to prepare. "CETARY can't happen if the kids are not here. We let them know if they don't show up, they let their partner and everyone else down," said Smith. To assist with that responsibility of required daily attendance and encourage reliability, students are given monthly bus passes through collaboration with the Miami-Dade Transit Agency. "They have no reason not to get to school," he said.

CETARY Project participants are referred primarily by the Judicial Circuit Courts of Florida, Florida Dept. of Juvenile Justice, Florida Dept. of Children and Families, USDA Forest Service Job Corps and the Miami Job Corps Center. Once participants are referred they are subject to intense screenings to identify the applicants who are truly interested in culinary arts and changing their life.

According to Smith, "From the very outset, they have a set of guidelines that are strictly enforced. There are no cell phones, no earrings. We check their fingernails every day." Students must be between the ages of 16 and 18 years old. Youths that have caused harm to life or limb, are identified as violent criminals, have serious drug problems or are still in high school are not admitted into CETARY. 

"CETARY is not an alternative to high school," said Smith. "This is only for students who have dropped out of school or who have been identified by the school as being on their way out." CETARY students are encouraged to complete their GED requirements through classes held at night after the program ends for the day. "It makes for a long day, but it is better to keep them busy and off the streets."

Future Prospects

Upon completion of CETARY, students are given the option to receive job placement or to continue their education at Johnson & Wales. CETARY graduates that have their GED are eligible to earn an annual $24,000 scholarship for their education. In reference to scholarships, Smith pointed out, "there are no compromises in admission standards for them. These kids have to work hard from day one."

To date, there have been 75 graduates of CETARY. "We are very pleased with what we have been seeing in the trends among our graduates," said Smith. "We are enjoying many more successes than we are challenges and have had a very strong impact on our community." CETARY graduates are tracked for a minimum of 12 months, but often are followed for a much longer period of time due to the interest and dedication of the case workers and people involved with the students, said Smith. 

With CETARY's success and its strong embrace by the community, the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) have responded by helping to develop a national CETARY team that will work to implement 35 CETARY Projects nationwide. The programs are slated to operate in areas with high need for juvenile justice reform.

Smith strongly credits CETARY's accomplishments to the "tremendous partnerships" within the community, including their alliance with the North Miami Elks Lodge #1835. "Without [these partnerships] the success of CETARY would not be possible," said Smith. 


For more information on the CETARY Project, contact:

Johnson & Wales University
Student Academic Center, Suite 501
North Florida Campus
North Miami, FL 33181
ph: 305-892-7047
fax: 305-892-7065
159 Burgin Parkway | Quincy, MA 02169
617-471-4445 | Fax 617-770-3339