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Create Common Good: Preparing a new generation of cooks

Angela Nelson of Mountain America Credit Union presents a $500 Pay It Forward to Tracy Hitchcock, CEO of Create Common Good.

What's one way you can help someone who is new to this country or looking for a second chance?

Teach them to cook for a paycheck. That’s the idea behind the Boise non-profit, Create Common Good. Its graduates are now in several restaurants around the Treasure Valley and it's this month's winner of a Pay It Forward.

Create Common Good has a rigorous, eight-week program of instruction. Before cook trainees even touch a spatula, they go through four weeks of class work.

I saw the first day of class for a new group. Their first lesson was on pathogens and their first test was hand washing. Nate, their instructor, put a harmless white powder on their hands and had them rub it all over up to their wrists. Then, he told them to wash. Using a special light, Nate examined their hands. If they missed a spot, the powder glowed. No matter how thorough they thought they’d washed, everyone missed a spot – usually around the fingernails.

Those who survive the book work, move into the kitchen on the fifth week.

The real cost of such training is around $2,000, but these trainees are charged only $10 a week.

“That's all they can afford, but it also gives them some skin in the game," said Tracy Hitchcock, CEO of Create Common Good. (Upon graduation) They get a knife, they get a chef's coat and their ‘ServSafe’ certificate with that $80."

Hitchcock (no, she’s not related to Alfred) is a food scientist trained in biology and chemistry. She climbed the corporate ladder for 17 years before coming to Create Common Good.

"I left corporate America to take this role because I wanted to have more human touch and wanted to see more directly the impact I was having,” Hitchcock said.

There are two parts to Create Common Good. One is instruction, and the other is production. The production side brings in money to subsidize the instruction, although they also receive donations and grants.

"We're still very reliant on those and always will be, but it's to help make those dollars go farther," she explained.

Hitchcock opened up the walk-in cooler and showed me some of what they produce.

“These are onions that are going to Jackson's Food Stores. Last year we did about 36 tons of diced onions."

They also make Steph’s Seriously Good Salsa that’s sold at Albertson’s, Whole Foods and The Boise Co-op.

No matter how successful the production side is, the focus will always be on getting students ready to compete for jobs in restaurant kitchens.

We met four graduates who came to Boise are refugees from Congo.

“When I come from Congo I didn’t know nothing about cook,” Pascal said.

Create Common Good not only trained him, but helped him get a job in the kitchen of a restaurant at the Boise Airport.

"We will never, never, forget Create Common Good," said another graduate, Jean Paul.

And to help the organization to continue to help people in need of work and financial stability, Angela Nelson of Mountain America Credit Union paid it forward with $500 for Create Common Good.

Hitchcock says the money is wonderful, but seeing the change in the students is the reward that keeps her motivated.

“They tend to come in like this (shoulders slumped) and after those eight weeks we get to spend with them, they're like this (shoulders squared, head high). They go out and they have that confidence and they have rediscovered their own potential and their own self-worth. We are here to help them … discover it on their own."

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