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ROC expanding with culinary arts, catering

Rock Hill outreach includes culinary training

Renew Our Community has expanded its jobs training to include a culinary and cooking program.
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Renew Our Community has expanded its jobs training to include a culinary and cooking program.

It didn’t take Bill, Reggie or Reno long to realize that they had similar, if not the same, story: there are days when you wake up and all you see is bottom.

Bill Hofmann remembers the day he was beyond hope. It was in Charleston. The Army veteran, once badly wounded in combat, had $5, slept in a car without tires and was addicted to drugs, alcohol and anger.

Reggie McDowell left Clover in haste following a fight over drugs, arriving in Rock Hill with only the clothes on his back. “Tore up pretty bad,” McDowell said.

Reno Walton was a player and knew all the players in the Boyd Hill neighborhood of Rock Hill. He had his share of drug problems too, but said he has been clean for 10 years. He calls himself the Facebook poet and posts his work there often. While he has had jobs, he has trouble keeping them.

Life changed for these men when someone extended a hand.

A stranger changed Hofmann’s life. They offered to buy Hofmann a meal and used tires for the car. All the man asked in return was for Hofmann to join him and his family at church.

“I had all week to run,” Hofmann said.

But he went to church and “that changed my life.”

McDowell ended up at Piedmont Medical Center’s Emergency Department following his fight and flight from Clover. Someone there asked him if he knew of the ROC, Renew our Community.

They paid for a cab ride to ROC’s downtown Rock Hill location. McDowell could have asked the cab driver to stop, but he stayed on to the end the ride, finding the extended hand of Bruce McKagan, director of ROC Works. ROC “saw more in me than I saw in myself,” McDowell said.

Walton encountered someone he knew was a former Boyd Hill player. But he looked, acted different – and told Walton he could help if he, too, wanted to change. At first Walton was reluctant to accept help. But he decided change meant “you’ve got to want it more than anything you’ve wanted in your life.”

The result? “I’m in the right place now. I know there is hope,” Walton said.

The trio is among those at ROC ready to extend their hands as the nonprofit group launches its latest effort, ROC Catering.

ROC Catering is the first step in what Dale Dove, one of the founders of ROC, hopes is a hospitality job training program. He wants to reach out to the most unreliable people, those with few job skills, and find them jobs in an industry that historically has high turnover and low wages. He hopes employers will find his ROC clients to be hard working, show up on time and be reliable and accountable. Dove hopes those traits help employers reduce turnover, which could result in them paying a slightly higher wage to keep people.

The hospitality job training program is an extension of ROC Works, the nonprofit’s job training program.

ROC Works combines classroom instruction, where students study various job skills, with part-time work. The classwork focuses on the “soft skills” valued by employers.

“Anyone can get dressed up for an interview,” McDowell said. “It’s when you talk you prove yourself.”

After the classwork, clients hold part-time ROC jobs. They can work at the ROC Emporium thrift store or, as McDowell has, on a contract crew that does outside cleanup work for the city.

“I wouldn’t trade this job for one that paid double,” McDowell said. It has allowed him to rent his own place and buy a scooter. “Paid cash,” he said.

Walton is one of the most recent graduates of the ROC Works program. “I’m the rookie, I want to get it right,” he said.

Hofmann is the director of ROC’s culinary arts program. He is a certified executive chef who decided one day he wanted to extend a hand as others had. He stepped down from his chef’s job and “I didn’t fall. It’s not all about my career.”

He is looking forward to making ROC Catering successful and helping people such as McDowell and Walton excel. Creating a culture of excellence is his goal. “If you please the king, Jesus, you won’t let your customers down,” he said.

On a recent afternoon Hofmann gave McDowell and Walton a cooking lesson. They made his version of the Chinese favorite, General Tso’s chicken, that was pan-, not deep-fried and a shrimp and dumpling meal that combined Southern and Italian cooking. Both were appropriately seasoned, not too sweet, not too tart, but with the pleasant aftertaste that lingers in the mouth, convincing you you want more.

While there was the joy of cooking, the true joy was understanding that each has changed and they want to offer that experience to others. All it takes is a handshake and commitment.

“If you work, ROC works,” McDowell said.

Learn more

For information on ROC’s new catering program call Bill Hofmann at 704-299-5170 or email him at bhofmann@renewoc.org. For information on ROC go to http://renewoc.org/ or call 803-328-0003.

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