For the last year, Josh Altman, a Hempfield High School student, has been working at Redstone Highlands senior living center in Greensburg.
He's in a program that helps him gain work experience called Transition WORKS!, run by Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania for students who have barriers to employment because of disabilities.
And now Redstone and Goodwill are joining together to start a new, yearlong Culinary Pathways program, and Josh -- who wants to be a cook -- will be the first participant.
Josh expressed his excitement in a Redstone release about the new program, which starts this week.
"Thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity to hopefully get hired at Redstone as a full-time cook," he said. "I love it there, it is awesome, especially working with Jane, she is very understanding to work with."
Jane Moore is a cook at Redstone, and she will be Josh's mentor in the new program.
Jim Hodge, vice president for marketing at Redstone, said his facility has been working with the Transition WORKS! program for the past two years, where students gain work experience in several departments, such as maintenance, clerical and laundry.
"[Goodwill] came to us about students working here, and the students have been working for nine-week rotations in several different departments," Mr. Hodge said.
"As we watched how that program has developed, we wanted to know -- how do we extend this if we have a worker who is interested in that department?
"We had one student, Josh, who was truly enamored with the culinary program, and our staff mentored him and he worked directly with the cook. This student started out kind of cautiously, but he grew and developed and he really flourished."
"She will now work with him in this new Culinary Pathways program, which we will fund along with the Goodwill.
"It will be full time, eight hours a day, and he will work the breakfast, lunch or dinner shift. We serve about 100 residents each meal," he said.
He will be trained in food safety, sanitation, ServSafe and cooking. ServSafe is a food handler program sponsored by the National Restaurant Association.
At the completion of the culinary program, the student will be eligible to take the ServSafe certification test and apply for open positions at Redstone Highlands Dining Services in their various senior living communities.
"We're putting a lot of faith in this program, and it's the right thing to do for us and the people in the program," he said.
Redstone has hired students after they completed the Transition WORKS! program in the past, but this is the first extended training program for a specific job.
David Tobiczyk, spokesman for Goodwill, said a dozen students worked at Redstone two years ago and about 16 this past school year in the Transition WORKS! program.
Over the past 10 years, he said, hundreds of students in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties have participated in the Transition WORKS! program at various work sites.
A Transition WORKS! staff person is on site at Redstone to see that the students get there on time, and that they work on any needed skills for the different jobs.
"It is the on-site work that the students are doing, though, that is really good experience," he said.
In Westmoreland County, he said, Norwin, Hempfield, Yough, Penn Trafford, Latrobe and Greensburg-Salem school districts are involved in the Transition WORKS! program.
The high school students are paid for their work by the school districts with state funds for employment training for students with disabilities, he said.
In-school students aged 16 to 21 who have an Individualized Education Plan are eligible for the Transition WORKS! program.
They usually spend half-days at their high school and half-days at a work site, transported by school vans.
Redstone has about 600 residents at their four senior communities in Westmoreland County -- in Greensburg, Murrysville and at two locations in North Huntingdon.
They have a variety of living levels, including villa homes, independent apartments, assisted living and a nursing center.
Culinary Pathways is a pilot porgram, and Mr. Hodge said it will be broken into six-week segments and may take up to a year to complete.
"We'll watch it and see how it develops," he said.
Mr. Tobiczyk said his agency has had a good working relationship with Redstone for the past two years.
"They are a wonderful partner," he said.
"This is kind of unique for us and Goodwill," Mr. Hodge said of the new program. "And in the future, we'd like to meet with other employers in the area to see if they'd help us financially to support this program.
"We're going to watch the success of this Culinary Pathways program, and our goal is not only to make it work on the culinary side, but maybe in the maintenance department and in other areas, too."
Debra Duncan, freelance writer: email@example.com