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A group of students at The Culinary School at Eva's Village in May 2017.
A group of students at The Culinary School at Eva's Village in May 2017.

Changing lives, one future chef at a time

Josephine Cornacchia is one of many students who has received training and achieved her dream through The Culinary School at Eva’s Village.

June 23, 2017
Marcus Owens

Josephine Cornacchia has fond childhood memories of cooking with her Italian grandmothers and mother, and she always dreamed of attending culinary school. But after suffering a series of hardships — the death of her mother when Cornacchia was 15 and later spending time in rehab for drug use — she put her passion for cooking on hold. That all changed when she came to Eva’s Village, an anti-poverty nonprofit organization in Paterson, New Jersey, in March 2016.

Today, Cornacchia, 32, is a graduate of The Culinary School at Eva’s Village and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business management at Berkeley College in Woodland Park, New Jersey. She hopes to open a bakery or cafe when she graduates in 2019.

“I’m not using drugs, my family is talking to me again, and I was able to go to culinary school,” Cornacchia said. “That pushed me to get my degree. Everything that I complete pushes me to do more.”

Eva’s Village offers programs and resources that provide food, shelter, recovery and medical services, education, and job training. In 2016, Wells Fargo awarded several grants totaling $37,500 to programs at Eva’s Village, including a $20,000 grant to the culinary school in September.

Chef instructor Peter Ceru addresses students at The Culinary School at Eva's Village in Paterson, New Jersey. (3 minutes)

“We’ve had a longstanding relationship with Eva’s Village,” said Tomas Porturas, community relations consultant for Wells Fargo in northern New Jersey. “The nonprofit is located in the third largest city in New Jersey, and the city has so many challenges that any help is greatly appreciated.”

Team members from Wells Fargo also have a long history of volunteering with Eva’s Village, whether it’s been serving food to approximately 400 people at Eva’s Community Kitchen, providing technical assistance for the board of directors, helping the nonprofit’s clients prepare for jobs, or offering financial workshops to families at Eva’s Village.

“The volunteers are a very important part of our story,” said Ellen Kuhn, marketing and communications coordinator at Eva’s Village. “Without them, none of this would work.”

The Culinary School at Eva’s Village is a six-month program with five modules focusing on subjects like buffet preparation, pastry arts, professional conduct, and teamwork. Student complete one-month internships before graduating with ServeSafe® certification, and are matched with volunteer mentors who have worked in the food industry and can help them find jobs. The program has a 92 percent job placement rate.

“Eva’s Village not only has programs to address many issues, but it also has connections in the city to refer people to other organizations or companies,” Porturas said. “If one of the culinary graduates wants to open their own restaurant, Eva’s Village can refer them to the right place.”

A second chance

The minute Cornacchia saw a flyer for the culinary school, she got excited and enrolled, said Heather Thompson, director of development for Eva’s Village.

Cornacchia had served in the U.S. Air Force for five years, working in satellite communications, before being honorably discharged. She began using drugs and lost custody of her son, A.J., who is now 5 years old. After completing rehab and regaining custody of her son, she was on the verge of another relapse. When Cornacchia heard about Eva’s Village, she sought help there.

“It wasn’t mandated,” Cornacchia said. “I wanted to change my life and give myself a chance.”

Josephine Cornacchia, a graduate of The Culinary School at Eva's Village, shares a kiss with her son A.J.
Josephine Cornacchia, a graduate of The Culinary School at Eva's Village, shares a kiss with her son A.J.

She spent her first few months at Eva’s Village focusing on her recovery. While she attended group meetings, the on-site child care program ensured her son was taken care of. When classes for the culinary school began in June 2016, Cornacchia enrolled.

“It was awesome,” she said. “They teach you knife skills and how to do everything the right way. I loved it.”

Cornacchia continued to live in Eva’s Village Hope Residence for Mothers and Children with her son while she was in school.

Cornacchia graduated from the culinary program in December 2016, moved into an apartment, and is now attending college full time. She can tell her son is happier now that their lives have a routine. “He always tells me he’s so proud of me,” she said.

Cornacchia gives a lot of credit to the staff and programs at Eva’s Village for helping to improve her life.

“The staff there is awesome,” she said. “Some people have to go there, and some want to go there. If everybody makes the best of it — if you go there and give it a chance — you can really change your life for the better.”

Contributors: Jessica Pacek