Pictured from left, are: Dr. Sharon Byrdsong, superintendent of Norfolk Public Schools; Norfolk Public Schools Board Chair Dr. Noëlle M. Gabriel; Eric Terry, Virginia Restaurant, Travel & Lodging Association president and CEO; Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander, Hu and Evie Odom; Dawn Sweeney, Association president and CEO; and Rob Gifford, president of the NRAEF

The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s ProStart program is available at two schools in Norfolk, Va., thanks to a $1.1 million gift from local restaurateur Hu Odom. The donation brings the two-year program, which teaches culinary arts and management skills, to local students interested in pursuing restaurant industry careers.

The program is now taught at Norfolk’s Maury High School and Norfolk Technical Center.

Odom, president and founder of BOTH Inc., a 21-unit Golden Corral franchisee, called ProStart the best initiation and early training for the restaurant industry.

“Many low income and otherwise disadvantaged high-school students don’t have access to ProStart or any other similar program,” he said. “Perhaps private funding can help open the door to those students, to give them an opportunity for easier access to the restaurant industry, restaurant management and the culinary arts. That’s what we’re trying to achieve here in Norfolk.”

Odom added that he hoped the students would take the skills they learn in ProStart and leverage them in the restaurant industry ‑‑or any industry they pursue. In addition to his ProStart donation, Odom also gifted Tidewater Community College in Hampton Roads, Va., to help its students achieve their education and career goals.

Rob Gifford, the NRAEF’s president, said the organization was excited and grateful for the investment in the next generation of industry leaders.

“Hu’s donation will ensure young people in Norfolk and Hampton Roads can obtain the skills and training they need to pursue the limitless job and career opportunities our industry has to offer.”