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Recipe for success

"Recipe for success" Continued...

Issue: "Effective Compassion," Sept. 1, 2007

VTS and PREP students work together to serve 1,500 to 2,000 meals a week. Fewer than 40 men serve and prepare breakfast and lunch for the public, take care of dinner for the men in transitional living, and cater on the side. Their catering service is in such high demand that the executive chef had to limit the off-campus banquets to four per week. In the course of the program, men spend at least 1,500 hours practicing for hotel and restaurant careers.

Students also take a wide variety of college-level classes accredited by the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation. They learn everything from sanitation to controlling foodservice costs, and must maintain a C average. The biggest difference between Victory Trade School and other intensive educational schools is the cost: Students pay nothing.

VTS survives economically through the sweat equity of the enrolled men. The school costs an average of $17,000 per student per year. Students work an average of 40 hours each week to offset half of that cost, and the remaining expense is covered by donors. Queen expects that within a year VTS will receive post-secondary school accreditation, which will enable students to receive government Pell grants based on financial need. Pell grants will make VTS less dependent on donations and will help expand the school's class offerings. Accreditation will also raise the stature of the trade school, allowing students to transfer credits to other accredited colleges.

Classroom learning applies to students' daily work. In their restaurant marketing class, students didn't just study a book, they implemented a marketing plan for the Cook's Kettle by designing advertising for city buses and movie screens. The year of courses also includes 175 hours of biblical education and life skills classes such as conflict resolution, personal economics, anger management, and communication and study skills.

Hands-on hotel training takes place half a mile down the block at Victory Square, the mission's men's facility. The Lodge section of Victory Square functions like a European-style hostel, where men pay $8 to $12 for a bed and a continental breakfast. Despite a broken air conditioner, all 50 beds at the Lodge were full. VTS students live four to a room in a different section of the building and are on a steady rotation to do every job a hotel requires, from housekeeping to management.

On the wall of the VTS residence hall, a poster decorated with graduation photos reads, "This is our school." That's not just a slogan: Students not only operate the restaurant but elect their own governance body that is responsible for rotating daily chores, interviewing program applicants, and occasionally bringing concerns about individual men to the staff.

This high level of responsibility makes Victory Trade School stand out from other mission programs. Mission workers are often worried about residents doing something wrong, said Jim Harriger, executive director of Springfield Victory Mission. But VTS leaders flipped that concept: Instead of expecting the worst, they prayed for the best and trained students for it.

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