Clark State, The Abilities Connection partner to offer training to Fresh Abilities employees

Fresh Abilities will relocate to college’s restaurant, with soft opening next month.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Clark State College’s Workforce and Business Solutions has partnered with The Abilities Connection (TAC) to offer education training and food to the community.

The partnership will provide classroom training for employees of Fresh Abilities, which launched in 2020 at COhatch - The Market, and allow for additional instruction to help with skill building for future employment in any type of restaurant, according to a release from the school.

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

Fresh Abilities was established by TAC as a training program to create a way for workers with disabilities and other barriers interested in working in the food service industry. The employees complete over 110 hours of training then transition to working at Fresh Abilities to get hands-on experience before pursing employment elsewhere.

Gerritt Smith, director of Workforce and Business Solutions, said the college is working with TAC to create a curriculum for individuals to learn the culinary industry from food preparation, customer service, handling diversity in the workplace and effectively communicating with others.

“This is exciting for us to have something new to add to our menu of development opportunities to the community and organizations,” he said. “We are always looking to partner with organizations like TAC to provide solutions and this relationship will allow us to build off the great work TAC has already done and how they are preparing individuals for a career in the restaurant industry.”

Fresh Abilities will relocate to the Eagle’s Nest at Clark State College’s Leffel Lane campus, with a soft opening scheduled for March. Since the restaurant will be at the college, trainees will be able to do both their classroom and hands-on training in the same building, which provides the space and equipment necessary for Fresh Abilities to expand their menu and provide additional skill-building and experience.

Jim Zahora, CEO of TAC, said the organization is excited about opening the restaurant to serve students and staff at the college, as well as any community member and current customers.

“There is open dining available in the restaurant area, as well as a beautiful outside patio,” he said. “Additionally, we will continue to offer curbside pick-up and Door Dash so you can get your Fresh Abilities fix even when you are in a hurry or can’t get out of the office or house. We are excited for our customers to try our new menu items as they launch.”

Zahora said enabling people with disabilities and other barriers to learn and train in a college environment is unique for the food industry.

“We are also extremely grateful to COhatch for their partnership over the last three years. The Fresh Abilities concept was born from conversations with COhatch and the location was ideal for TAC team members to interact and engage with the community. It is time to take this concept to the next level,” he said.

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