Robert stood in the foyer with his white chef’s coat, happily serving punch to Assembly 2014 delegates. He proudly displayed the culinary treats he and his staff had prepared.
Robert Russell is an instructor at Patal Vocational Preparation Schools, the agency contracted to cater lunch and coffee breaks at the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba’s annual convention at Eastview Community Church, Winnipeg, Mar. 7–8, 2014. Patal offers culinary, hospitality, administrative and technical training to people who have had struggles in their lives and may not be able to find other work.
“We tell them they’re OK,” said Russell with a huge smile, himself a graduate of the program.
With a current enrolment of more than 100 students, Patal recruits people coming out of places such as Child and Family Services, the correctional system, and the Manitoba Youth Centre. “If we want to reduce poverty and crime rates, we need to educate these folks,” said Ian Kakegamic, Patal’s community liaison.
The school works hard to provide work experience for their students in the community. “A lot of our students have criminal records, so it’s challenging. We’re looking for people who will give them a chance. Not to excuse the things they’ve done, but just give them a chance.”
“It’s a win-win,” said Canadian conference event planner Michelle Penner. “We got some great food and the students had an opportunity to share their skills and give back. Isn’t that what our mission is all about?”
Kakegamic hopes experiences such as the catering gig at Assembly 2014 will give students the confidence they need. “One of our guys came back and said it felt ‘cool’ to be helping those people out,” he said. “It’s that kind of stuff that will change their future. We want them to believe they can do anything they set their minds to.”
Patal is currently partnering with One88, a ministry of Eastview Community Church in Winnipeg’s downtown core. Patal instructors and students use One88’s kitchen facility on a weekly basis. In exchange, Patal offers fair-price catering for events.
“This is exactly the type of partnership we envisioned when we purchased our building,” said campus pastor Dave Ens. “It’s very much in line with the vision for our overall ministry – to provide a place for people to get back on their feet and build healthy community.”
Drawing on the expertise of students in its PC service technician course, Patal is hoping to refurbish 100 computers over the coming months and donate them to agencies in Winnipeg’s North End. If you have an old computer or cell phone you’d like to donate, go to Patal’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/PatalVocationalSchool.