The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation announced it has been awarded a $4.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) to develop pathways from the justice system to employment for young adults. The grant is the largest in the history of the NRAEF and will launch the Foundation’s HOPES program (Hospitality Opportunities for People (re)Entering Society).

To prepare and train young adults reentering society, the NRAEF will partner with Departments of Corrections, community-based organizations and state restaurant associations. These partner organizations will utilize an NRAEF training framework with individuals at participating correctional facilities as well as after release and during parole. Once a HOPES participant completes training, the individual will be placed in a local restaurant and/or foodservice position. Hospitality apprenticeships will also be available to participants who want to further advance their careers through such training.

Funds from the grant will be used by the NRAEF to develop programs in Boston, Massachusetts; Chicago, Illinois; and the Richmond and Hampton Roads, Virginia area. All funds from the grant will develop pathways from the justice system to employment for young adults. The NRAEF is already active in these cities with its Apprenticeship, Restaurant Ready and ProStart programs.

With nearly one million unfilled jobs, the restaurant industry is well-suited to support the USDOL’s reentry initiative and has a long history of being both a first job opportunity for people from all backgrounds and of offering second chances to countless others.

“We are honored to be part of a national effort to create positive employment opportunities for young adults involved with the justice system,” says Rob Gifford, president of NRAEF. “The program fits perfectly with our mission to attract, empower and advance today’s and tomorrow’s restaurant workforce and is an excellent way for anyone seeking to get back on track to becoming a productive and responsible member of society.”

The Prison Policy Initiative found the unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated people is nearly five times higher than the unemployment rate for the general United States population.

In late 2017, the USDOL also awarded the NRAEF a contract to develop the restaurant industry’s first registered restaurant management apprenticeship program. Currently more than 1,000 employees are enrolled nationwide.

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