EXETER—For many local youth, the Exeter Job Corps provides a platform through which they can gain tangible skills for future employment in many services industries, qualities which are not often taught within the realm of a five-day per week school year. A group of four students have rewarded themselves for applying those skills, taking top honors in the third annual Rhode Island Prostart Culinary Competition.
Destiny Tolentino, Bianca Rivera, Samantha Miranda, and Shirnica Hilaire won first place in the Foodservice Management portion of the event, designing a successful business plan which was judged by local and national hospitality professionals.
“It is not an easy competition,” said Linda Soderberg, deputy director of the Exeter Job Corps. ‘There is a 10 minute oral presentation, and a 10 minute oral thinking phase where judges asked [the students] questions about certification and marketing. Then they are compared in the business management portion.”
“They blew the competition out of the water this year,” she added.
“I am extremely proud of all the students who have dedicated months to practice and preparation for this event,” said Dale Venturini, president and CEO of the RIHA, in a statement. “As the future of the hospitality industry, I look forward to watching these students’ skills continue to progress and eventually become a part of the skilled workforce we have here in Rhode Island.”
The four students formed Team Nova at the Prostart competition, and had to work hard in order to achieve first place.
“We had to practice over and over again, we had to compromise our free time to work on the concept,” said the team. “We also had to learn to work with each other and listen to everyone’s ideas and concerns.”
“The lessons we learned were that we over-stressed ourselves and over thought everything,” they admitted. “We didn’t believe in ourselves, but we did it. Hard work pays off in the end.”
Team Nova won a share of a $324,000 scholarship provided by Johnson & Wales University and the New England Culinary Institute, among others. Now, the Job Corps students will compete at the National Prostart Competition in Minneapolis this weekend, and are confident that they can achieve even greater things there.
“We hope to have a great showing and make our state and school proud,” said Team Nova. “We are going to try our best. We want to prove to ourselves that we can do this because we have the strength and potential to do this. It is something we have never done before.”
At last month’s regular meeting, the Exeter Town Council praised the achievements of the Job Corps students and workforce development programs which the organizations affords.
“They have a great advanced culinary program, drawing people from all over the country, [and] they are heavily into skills development and job placement,” said Councilor Calvin Ellis. “I think the fact that their welding program sends young people directly to Electric Boat is amazing; [Students] are hired and continue to get jobs.”
“These people are helping students to find those jobs, and we are so grateful for the work that they are doing,” he continued. “The fact they are number four in the country is something that really needs to be emphasized. All kinds of good things r happening there.”
Soderberg agreed with Ellis’ assessment.
“I think we have set the standard and emerged as a leader for the youth workforce development system,” she said.