Youth Workforce Development Program


Our Vision:
Root’s vision is to prepare youth, who are experiencing barriers to success, to enter the workforce with confidence, self-agency, and a competitive edge. To do this, Root combines 200 hours of culinary and food service training, workforce preparedness, on-the-job experiences, life skills workshops and social capital, into an intensive 12-week program.

People learn by doing. Our experiential learning model aims to provide Opportunity Youth with a pathway out of the entrenched cycle of poverty through:

  • Culinary instruction to increase employability and open doors to stable employment
  • Health and nutrition education
  • Increasing educational attainment
  • Increasing financial literacy
  • Developing a more stable lifestyle by addressing social barriers such as housing, mental health issues, childcare and healthy relationships
  • Offering Post-Graduation and Transition Services
  • Individual case management

The Opportunity

There are over 9,000 disconnected youth in Essex County — 10% of all in the 16-24 age range. Among other issues many are plagued by poor diets, high in fat, sodium, and refined sugars, which can lead to serious lifetime consequences, including diabetes and obesity.

60% Salem students receive free or reduced lunch

83% of Lynn and Salem students are considered low-income

40% of youth in Salem and Lynn are overweight and obese

The Root Curriculum

The 12 week program runs from 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm, Monday-Friday. During this time, Program Partners attend life skills workshops, one-on-one career readiness coaching, and intensive culinary training in our full catering kitchen. The Root program includes:

  • More than 200 hours of mentored culinary skills training
  • Hands-on experience in a range of professional workplaces through an 8-week Externship at a local restaurant, hotel, or caterer
  • Industry-recognized Food Handler & Allergen ServSafe Certifications
  • Increased social capital through connections made with their assigned mentor, Root staff and volunteers, and those met during Externships. These all represent important assets that can be utilized as references during a job search, and as resources when employed
  • Basic budgeting and money management skills
  • A professional preparation portfolio that includes a polished resume with references, conflict resolution, resilience building, and goal setting training, and interview practice
  • Income-producing work opportunities that include a $500 externship stipend, potential to work at Root events, and a Root Café Associate position

In the Kitchen

Program Partners receive intensive training to prepare them to work in the culinary field. This begins in the "back-of-the-house" - the kitchen and prep areas. They learn utensils and equipment, mise en place and how to set up a work station, knife skills, how to develop taste, and necessary safety considerations when preparing food for public consumption. As the program advances, they have opportunity to learn and hone bread making skills, prepare soup stocks, and understand preparation of meats.

"Front-of-the-house" skills, generally the dining room and bar, are also an important aspect of our training. Program Partners learn and practice customer service, the roles in a restaurant kitchen, bar and beverage basics, and proper food handling techniques.

Career Readiness

When Program Partners aren’t in the kitchen, they are gaining hard and soft life skills essential for success in their personal and professional lives. These include resume building, conflict resolution, interviewing, basic budgeting, and career planning. Beyond weekly career readiness workshops, Root offers one-on-one coaching two days a week for those would benefit from additional support.

Off-Site Externships

After the first four weeks of robust orientation to equipment, cooking methods, respect, and safety, Program Partners spend one day per week working in local restaurants as Externs. These area eateries and food service providers immerse them in the rigor of business, and the Program Partners have an opportunity showcase their character, commitment, and aptitude in the process.

 Program Mentors

Each Program Partner brings their own strengths, background, and experiences to the cohort. To fully support them and provide the individualized coaching they need each is matched with a Program Mentor. Mentors provide advice about career advancement, educational planning support, networking and community engagement opportunities to help steer Program Partners toward success. Mentors will be assigned by Root, or identified by Program Partners, depending on their needs and situation.

If you are interested in serving as a Mentor, please contact Beth Alaimo, Program Director at

The Outcome

Program Partners graduate with an abundance of new practiced skills and direct experience that they may employ in whatever career path they choose. As importantly, they have also built their personal confidence and self-esteem. Together, these comprise a core foundation critical for those young people looking to become employed and ultimately self-sufficient.

It works…and so do they. Program Partners from our initial class have already been hired into jobs that resulted from their Externships!