Shawn Harris and Raafat Hanna teach culinary arts with a dash of life skills to teenagers from a Camden, N.J., juvenile detention facility, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. Next month, the program will move from a dilapidated building to new digs around the corner where the chefs’ charges can develop their skills in professional kitchens. Harris and Hanna are thrilled to leave the “hole,” where over five years they’ve run 11 sessions and graduated 118 students. Some of the baddest kids in South Jersey – teen boys convicted of drug-dealing, aggravated assault, and rape – have been transformed into mini-Martha Stewarts.
They learn about food they never knew existed, they take trips to the supermarket to learn about purchasing provisions, and they work with a union to land post-release apprenticeships in Atlantic City casino kitchens and Camden County restaurants. Harris doesn’t make any claims about saving every child. About 60 percent don’t graduate from the demanding four-month program, which involves 15 hours a week. Most graduates don’t get work in the restaurant industry. Of those who do, only about 20 percent are able to keep their jobs. Andre Andujar III is one of the successful few. “Andre was a rough dude when he started,” said Harris. “Brother, we had it out! We did not get along at all. But most of my students work out like that. They’re not used to structure.”