North

Getting to the Root of youth poverty in Salem

25nosalem - Jennifer Eddy speaking at a Dec. 1 fund-raiser for Roots in Salem. (Alyse Gause)
Alyse Gause
Jennifer Eddy speaking at a Dec. 1 fund-raiser for Roots in Salem.

When Jennifer Eddy was traveling in Cambodia in 2014, she came across HAVEN, a training restaurant for young adults who had aged out of orphanages.

It was a simple model: By teaching food-service skills, HAVEN was able to help them transition into the workforce.

Eddy, who had attended the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and served on the board at various nonprofits in Essex County, was interested. She wondered if there was a need for something similar back home.

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As it turned out, the idea behind HAVEN “was actually a well-known program model in the states,” said Eddy, an Ipswich resident. Successful programs had already been established at Liberty’s Kitchen in New Orleans and DC Central Kitchen in Washington.

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Looking to them for inspiration, Eddy decided to open her own version in Shetland Park, Salem’s waterfront business center. Root, which will serve young adults ages 16 through 24, hopes to host its first class in the spring. The goal is to help them achieve academically and equip them with knowledge that can lead to healthier lifestyles and a path out of poverty.

“This was kind of part of my life’s calling,” said Root’s executive director Selvin Chambers. Part of a family of eight who grew up in a housing project, Chambers has past experience in nonprofit management and youth development organizations, work that “helps people like [him],” he said.

The program will last 16 weeks and work with a group of no more than 15 students at a time, said Eddy. Time will be divided between an academic curriculum in which tutors will help students work toward GEDs; on-the-job training in Root’s café, in their function space, and in catering; and a four-week internship.

Despite Root’s helping hand, Chambers said it’s ultimately up to the students to achieve success. “Root will be 50 percent responsible for learning, growth, and development,” he said. “[The students are] responsible for the other 50 percent.”

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The café, catering, and in-house function space — which can be rented for private parties — create not only a hands-on learning opportunity, but a self-sustaining source of revenue. Unlike other nonprofits, this means it won’t rely on yearly funding, Eddy said.

Roots will keeps tabs on the students for three years after graduating by calling them and their employers and having them return as guest speakers and for get-togethers.

“The whole goal,” Chambers said, “is to make them employable.”

18nosalem - Root is a teaching kitchen that will serve disadvantaged young adults ages 16 through 24 and hopes to help them achieve academically and equip them with knowledge that can lead to healthier lifestyles and a path out of poverty. They are currently building the facility on the waterfront of Salem's Shetland Park. (Alyse Gause)
Alyse Gause
The Root facility is taking shape in Shetland Park, Salem’s waterfront business center.

Vanessa Nason can be reached at vanessa.nason@globe.com.