Inmates gain job skills

Program offers food service train

By Aebra Coe
Petoskey News-Review

CHARLEVOIX, Mich. (AP) — Abbey Van Horn, 24, has her hair pulled back tight in a ponytail as she walks confidently through the kitchen of the Charlevoix County Jail. Two carefully iced carrot cakes sit cooling on a counter, testimony to the young woman’s skill.

Van Horn does not work for the jail as may be assumed, she is an inmate there, the Petoskey News-Review reports.

Two years ago, Sheriff Don Schneider asked for ideas from his staff on ways to give inmates hands-on job skills.

“It’s my philosophy that we try to turn people back out from jail better than we received them,” Schneider said.

The jail offers GED completion courses, bible study and the program in which Van Horn is enrolled: food service training.

The jail’s cooks heard of a training program through Gordon Food Service, the company from which the facility purchases most of its food products.

They decided to implement the program, and say that so far it has been a success.

Students begin with food safety lessons, then move on to learning about nutrition, budgeting and menu creation. Each step of the way they are tested through written and verbal tests and, if they pass, are awarded certificates.

There are 20 levels to the four month program and Van Horn recently reached the final level. Her last task was to develop a full menu with calorie counts and costs, then prepare the meal.

As part of her meal, Van Horn baked a carrot cake made with carrots from the jail’s garden.

“It was delicious,” raved Schneider.

In fact, it was so good, he asked her to bake another to take to the county board of commissioners.

The cake was a hit at the board meeting and the commissioners expressed appreciation to the sheriff for making the program available.

“It’s not just about preparing food,” said Schneider of teaching inmates a skill such as cooking. “It’s giving them confidence in themselves that they are able to do this.”