Stone Soup Project a success

Eleven students complete program

Staff Writer

Rural Madison Vice President Ren LeVally talks to Stone Soup Project Graduate Nathan Good as Good chops a tomato.

Rural Madison Vice President Ren LeVally talks to Stone Soup Project Graduate Nathan Good as Good chops a tomato. Photo by Becca Pizmoht/ Madison County Eagle

The Madison Stone Soup Project concluded its six-week course with a graduation celebration Dec. 14.

Out of 12 original enrollees, 11 students completed the program and graduated. The graduates each received three certificates—the National Restaurant Association ServSafe Food Handler Certificate of Completion, the Cooperative Extension Customer Service Certificate, and the Stone Soup Job Skills Training Certificate. The graduates received their certification and celebrated with friends and family with refreshments prepared by the class.

The Stone Soup Project, a food service training course run by Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Food Enterprise Centers with assistance from Rappahannock Goodwill Industries and Rural Madison is designed to help low-income individuals get skills that can aid entry into the workforce. The program partnered with Rappahannock Goodwill Industries to provide graduates with jobs. Goodwill Industries will pay the graduates salaries for six weeks. At the end of the six-week trial, employers will have the option to hire the graduate.

According to the staff and students, the Madison course was a success. Ren LeVally, vice president of Rural Madison and professionally trained executive chef taught culinary skills to the participants and happy with the program’s outcome.

“This is a good fit for Madison and something near and dear to me. When I heard about Stone Soup, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it,” he said. “We were really pleased with the participation and interest in this program and hope to make it permanent.”

Marty Bywaters-Baldwin, workforce center manager of Rappahannock Goodwill Industries was also pleased with the program and its results.

“There is a real need for this type of training,” he said. “Foodservice provides many entry level jobs and there are many restaurants, hospitals, schools, and institutions that are looking for qualified workers. Partnering with Cooperative Extension and Rural Madison helped reach out to a different group; I’m pleased with this and hope it can continue and grow.”

Claire Lillard of Cooperative Extension echoed their sentiments.

“We had a diverse group of participants, some were looking to get and improve job skills, some looking for the ServSafe certification and some just looking to improve their kitchen skills. I think they all got something out of this,” she said. “One of the students is working with ‘Marty to get an internship, too.”

The group is enthusiastic about the program and is hopeful that it will become a permanent part of the curriculum at the George Washington Carver Agriculture Center in Culpeper. The Madison and Culpeper Stone Soup courses were funded through a grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. LeVally and Lillard said they are exploring other possible sources of funding so that the project can continue.

Meanwhile, the students were equally enthusiastic about the pilot program and plan to use their training in different ways.

“I did this so I can get better job options,” graduate Nathan Good said. “I’m not someone that’s looking for a handout, but this is a leg up, a way for me to do a little better. I’ve done all kinds of jobs; [food service] has more opportunities right now.”

“My dream is to open a small café after I retire,” graduate Betty Madison said. “I learned some things and got my ServSafe certificate. Hopefully, that’s the first step towards that.”