Program helps returning vets find jobs through culinary arts training

NEW YORK -- When veterans finish serving, finding a job can sometimes be a challenge.

In fact, the jobless rate for veterans is just more than five percent.

But a local organization is helping by getting the vets cooking in the kitchen.

Rolling rice balls is worlds away from what Vernon Branch used to do when he was in the U.S. Navy.

"Maintenance and operation of a cease-fire weapon system, and in a civilian world, that translates to nothing, so it was frustrating trying to find work afterwards," he said.

Which is how the 42 year old ended up in this sort of training camp.

For 20 years Project Renewal has offered a culinary arts training program for men and women who are homeless, but it recently expanded its reach to veterans.

There are hundreds of job training programs for men and women who are in vulnerable situations across the country, but the stats in this program are pretty impressive.

72 percent of those who graduate land jobs, compared to 37 percent, which is the national average.

Eddie Rodriguez is one of those graduates. An Army reservist for 7 years, he ended up homeless and doing drugs, but he went through the culinary arts program and is now working for Project Renewal.

"Second chance, I've got my own place now, I can see my kids, I get along with my family now. It's great, good times," said Rodriguez.

Far better times than before, and it turns out, veterans do rather well in this sort of program.

"They know how to show up on time and show up every day, and they know how to work with people, which is really fabulous," said Barbara Huges of Project Renewal Culinary Arts.

Vernon is looking forward to landing a job when the 24 weeks of training are done.

"Cooking is my passion, I love doing it," he said. "It calms me. I love being in the kitchen, the rattle of the pots and pans, just the appreciation on people's face when you feed them a good meal."