ProStart, a two-year career and technical education program focused on culinary arts and restaurant management, is taught in 1,700 schools across the country.

Levi Roush loves ProStart.

The junior at Pulaski County High School attends the school’s culinary arts program and says the best part is learning how to cook and being taught the skills to succeed in the restaurant industry as well as in life. “As soon as I walk into the classroom, I know I won’t be bored because I get to have hands-on experiences as I learn.”

His teacher, Laura Norris, says Levi, and the rest of her students, all crave the real-world industry experiences that will help them move on to become members of the next generation of successful chefs, restaurateurs and business operators. The skills deliver a path out of the economic challenges they face in rural southwest Virginia.

Norris says that’s why she applied for one of the Rachael Ray Foundation’s ProStart Grow Grants this year.

Growing skills, creating opportunity

Thanks to Norris’ efforts, Pulaski became one of 27 high schools to receive $5,000 through the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s Rachael Ray Grow Grant program. They can use the money to upgrade and expand their ProStart programs and help the students hone their skills.

ProStart, a two-year career and technical education program focused on culinary arts and restaurant management, is taught in 1,700 schools across the country and currently enrolls 130,000 students.

Melissa Allphin, a ProStart educator at Moody High School in Moody, Ala., applied for the grant in the hopes that if her school was selected, a portion of the funds would go to covering student fees so more kids could take her class. Her student, Alyssia Turner, says being able to attend her ProStart class means she can continue pursuing her dream of a career in the restaurant industry.

“I’m from a single-parent household and we struggle financially,” she says. “The students who take this class with Chef Allphin know she does what she can, but that she can’t do everything. This grant gives us the opportunity to turn our dreams into realities.”

Allphin says her students were her winning ingredient.

“I have kids with hearts to carry them out of the poverty here, and I fight to help those with the will to do so,” she says. “These kids work hard to be better than the next group because it’s their ticket to the future.”

Earmarked for supplies, fees

Recipients said they planned to use the grant money on such items as new equipment, textbooks, culinary uniforms and to help cover some students’ school fees. Many applicants reported they can use the help now more than ever due to financial crises associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“ProStart educators and students have persevered through this difficult year and are continuing to pursue their passions for restaurants and foodservice against all odds,” says Ray, the award-winning television personality and philanthropist.

“The Rachael Ray Foundation is proud to support their dreams to become future chefs and restaurateurs and provide them with the resources they need to be successful in their classrooms. We can’t wait to see what they will accomplish.”

Over the past 15 years, Rachael Ray’s Yum-o! organization and the Rachael Ray Foundation have awarded more than 260 scholarships totaling $1.8 million in support of ProStart and NRAEF scholarships.

“The Rachael Ray Foundation is one of our most charitable partners,” says Rob Gifford, president of the Foundation. “With its support, we’re thrilled to offer these ProStart Grow Grants. This grant funding will ensure that students interested in restaurant and hospitality careers will get the resources and tools they need to succeed in their classrooms and advance their futures as schools reopen and the restaurant industry continues to rebuild.”

Learn more about the NRAEF and its ProStart program