Clark State named award finalist for The Abilities Connection partnership

Clark State College was named a finalist for the national 2023 Bellwether Award for its partnership with The Abilities Connection (TAC).

The college was nominated in the Planning, Governance, and Finance category, which recognizes programs or activities that improve college efficiency and effectiveness. Clark State’s nomination focused on its partnership with TAC, which houses its Fresh Abilities restaurant food service training program at the college.

“Our community is always strengthened by collaboration, and this partnership with TAC is an example for all of us in the region to be proud of,” said President Jo Alice Blondin. “The innovation represented by Fresh Abilities and our training capacities is worthy of this recognition, and we are honored to be a finalist.”

TAC is an organization that empowers people with disabilities and other barriers to reach their full potential through employment, training and support.

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Fresh Abilities is a training program for workers with disabilities interested in working in the food service industry. Its employees complete over 110 hours of training in food service, such as food safety and preparation, customer service and other related skills, before transitioning into the restaurant to gain hands-on experience and later pursing employment in the food service business.

Clark State provides the classroom portion of training for the employees for additional instruction to help build skills for future employment in any type of restaurant. It also gives prospective students who may have not anticipated attending college and exposure to higher education.

Bridget Doane, manager of commercial enterprises at TAC, said the partnership with the college has been beneficial for not only TAC but for many people with disabilities and other barriers.

“We’ve seen our trainees thrive in this new environment on Clark State’s campus, with their classroom and hands-on kitchen experience taking place all within one building on a campus of higher education,” Doane said. “We are certain this training model is replicable in similar settings, and we look forward to sharing the story of Fresh Abilities with community colleges from across the country.”

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Ten finalists were selected for the award in each category of instructional programs and services; planning, governance and finance; and workforce development that includes public and/or private strategic alliances and partnerships that promote community and economic development.

Finalists are selected based on how well the program address the conference theme, an identified critical issue and the published criteria. Community colleges with a program that scores highest in the first round of the competition is a finalist and invited to compete in the final round of the award competition. The winners and finalists are invited to join the Bellwether College Consortium.

The finalists will compete for the 2023 Bellwether Award at the 29th Annual Community Colleges Futures Assembly (CCFA) from Feb. 26-28 in San Antonio. This nationally recognized award identifies and honors outstanding and innovative community colleges in each award category.

“The significance of the Bellwether Award is that the winning programs are replicable, scalable, equity-focused, and demonstrate evidence-based success,” said Rose Martinez, director for the Bellwether College Consortium. “With the complexity of issues facing our community colleges today, these finalists are extraordinary examples of colleges providing scalable solutions to tough challenges.”

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