For many students across the city, especially those from black and brown communities, the option of a college education is far-fetched. Most of these students come from low-income families who face several barriers that prevent or limit their chances of continuing their education. To add to that list of obstacles is the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest from injustices against people of color—these both causing a loss of wages and an increased unemployment rate. For some, college becomes an afterthought. Thankfully, for a few selected Chicago Public School (CPS) students, there is a silver lining. Aramark, a global leader in food, facilities management, and uniforms, awarded $40,000 in scholarships to Chicago Public Schools (CPS) seniors from six different schools who are continuing their education in hospitality or culinary arts at a college or university of their choice.
“Aramark is proud to nurture the minds and bodies of CPS students, and we’re thrilled to offer these scholarships and grants to students who wish to expand their horizons,” said Angila Faison, Director of Community Engagement at Aramark. “By investing in our youth and removing some of the financial barriers that students often face while pursuing higher education, we hope to equip the next generation of acclaimed chefs, restaurant owners and hospitality executives with the resources to realize their fullest potential.”
Currently, 19 CPS high schools have dedicated culinary and hospitality programs; these programs, comprised primarily of black and brown students, are part of a unique niche market offered to high school students under CPS’s Career and Technology Education (CTE). Participating students are introduced to culinary techniques and entrepreneurial concepts that will lead them to careers in the culinary and hospitality industries. Aramark was initially awarded the food/meal service contract for all 600 Chicago public schools in the 2013/2014 school year. As part of their engagement with the community and, more specifically, the culinary program, they created scholarships for CPS high school students. As the food and facilities services provider for CPS, Aramark is a proud supporter of CPS students’ educational opportunities and has donated $275,000 in scholarships to 60 culinary students since 2013.
For 2020, Aramark awarded the following students:
- Amicha Allen of Bronzeville High School, attending Kennedy-King in the Fall
- Jose Alvarado of Richards High School, attending Kennedy-King in the Fall
- Alexis Gonzalez of North Grand High School, attending Johnson & Wales University in the Fall
- Myah Jackson of Dyett Arts High School, attending Kennedy-King in the Fall
- Briana Jamerson of Richards High School, attending Central State University in the Fall
- Darius Kennerson of Chicago Agricultural High School, attending Central State University in the Fall
- Maribel Perez of Richards High School, attending Kennedy-King in the Fall
- Trinity Rosario of Roberto Clemente Community Academy, attending Robert Morris University Illinois in the Fall
Each student received $5,000 to support their college tuition, books, room, and board.
Darius Kenerson, one of the award recipients and a former Aramark intern, began his love for culinary arts at six years old. His first dish was a 3-layer German chocolate cake. He says, from there, he fell in love with cooking and an extraordinary passion for baking. Darius is a 2020 graduate of the only agricultural public school in Chicago, Chicago Agricultural High School, and is attending Central State University, an HBCU. Due to COVID-19, he opted to remain in Chicago while taking online classes. Darius is majoring in Business Administration with a minor in food science. After graduation, he plans to open his first soul food restaurant in his hometown, Chicago. His goal is to have franchises across the globe. Darius was sincerely grateful to Angila for seeing something special in him and recommending him for the scholarship. He was genuinely excited to receive the scholarship and thanked Aramark for being ‘his steppingstone to greatness.’ “I just want to thank Ms. Angila for being the push that I needed. Because of Aramark’s scholarship, I do not have to worry about tuition for my first college semester. I appreciate all of you. Please keep doing what you are doing to help students like me pursue this field [culinary arts and hospitality]. God is going to bless you [Angila Faison] and the entire Aramark family.”
Even with all the shutdowns and widespread financial obstacles the restaurant industry has faced over the past several months, according to Angila, more and more students are interested in the culinary art and hospitality fields and enrolling in the CPS’s Culinary and Careers. “We have first-generation Hispanic students who want to eventually open up their own restaurants to honor their culture and style of cooking. Culinary and Careers is a hidden gem within CPS, and Aramark is so proud to be a part of this.”
Aramark’s commitment, dedication, and investment in the families and communities go beyond the scholarship. They have an assortment of programs and partnerships to enhance further the culinary and hospitality programs at Chicago public schools. “We’re here to support CPS and the nutrition support services department to ensure that the students have healthy meals. During normal times [pre-COVID-19], we served over 350,000 students per day, and by the end of July with the community feeding program, we had served over 15 million meals to families. “It has been a very herculean effort to ensure that during these uncertain times that not only CPS students but literally anyone in the community can come up to a CPS school and get meal kits for three days’ worth of meals. It truly is a partnership, and we could not do this without CPS. CPS is the pillar in the community, and we’re here to support our clients.”
In February 2019, Aramark launched Chef Council Program, where chefs across the city volunteer their time and expertise to help CPS develop menus with more localized, regional flavor and speak to the students participating in the culinary program. The council members consist of 12-16 local chefs including, Josephine Wade, of Josephine’s Southern Cooking in Chicago’s southside Chatham neighborhood, and 2019 James Beard Best Chef Award recipient, Beverly Kim, owner of Parachute restaurant. “Tapping into these local chefs who are not only restaurateurs but also community members allow us to bring that additional layer of expertise, especially from the flavor profile perspective to our menus. Then, the engagement with the students who are primarily black and brown allows them to see professional men and women who look like them in the careers that they are interested in. Aramark also sponsors an ‘Ask the Chef’ virtual learning session once a month, where chefs share their career paths and recommend the next steps in the culinary and hospitality fields. Aramark is the Cooking Exchange Competition title sponsor, which is hosted by the Healthy Schools Campaign. This is a citywide competition between all the culinary schools. Students win prizes and scholarships. Other partnerships include Pilot Light, Common Threads, Green City Market, and Purple Asparagus. Additional offerings include providing snacks, supplies, and resources for the following projects: My Block, My Hood, Bike the Blvd race for peace in the Austin area, and I am a Gentleman – a 13-week male mentoring program for 6th to 8th graders with the police department.
Angila’s role is to serve as an ambassador, a liaison with the community, CPS, and the Nutrition Support Services Department within CPS. Aramark’s goal is to continue to help promote our students’ health, wellness, and nutritional well-being. To find out more about Aramark’s programs and partnerships, please contact Angila Faison at email@example.com. For more information on the Chicago public schools’ Culinary and Hospitality program and a list of participating schools, please visit the CPS website, https://www.cps.edu/academics/career-and-technical-education/culinary-and-hospitality/.
Kim Durden is a food blogger and owner of Divine Dine Food Tours, the first and only entirely Black, woman-owned food tour agency in Chicago. Visit her website at https://www.divinedine.online/ and follow her on social media: Facebook @divinedinefoodietours | Instagram @divinedinefoodietours | Twitter @divinedinetours