Columbia Industries celebrates three new Opportunity Kitchen graduates

Columbia Industries, a mission-based organization committed to supporting and empowering individuals with disabilities and other challenges, is celebrating its newest class of graduates from its Opportunity Kitchen food service training program. Three students in the program’s ninth class are graduating Thursday, October 27 at the Richland Federal Building. The ceremony begins at 4:30 p.m. and is open to the media.

 Opportunity Kitchen offers a structured path out of underemployment to individuals with disabilities and other barriers. Students in the program spend 12 weeks alongside Executive Chef Instructor Derek Smith and program staff as they cover a comprehensive curriculum to prepare them for food service, hospitality or catering employment. They learn skills such as safe food handling, cooking techniques, weighing and measuring ingredients, following and creating recipes, catering and customer service, while also receiving program certification and a Food Handler Permit. 

 “We are excited to celebrate the ninth graduating class of Opportunity Kitchen’s 12-week vocational food service training program,” said Michael Novakovich, President and CEO of Columbia Industries. “Our three incredibly talented and dedicated graduates are not only prepared for careers in the hospitality industry, they have overcome a variety of barriers and have emerged empowered and well-positioned for rich, full lives.”

In addition to food service instruction, students take a variety of life skills classes designed to help them overcome obstacles and see their own self-worth and potential, as students in the program face challenges such as intellectual or physical disabilities, mental illness, domestic violence, substance abuse and homelessness or unstable housing.

Upon program completion, graduates work with Columbia Industries staff to find jobs that are suited to their interests and newfound abilities. In addition, participants have access to Empowerment Place, CI’s on-site resource center, where they can receive help connecting with critical support services such as housing, medical and dental care, childcare, transportation, recovery treatment and more. With these added supports, graduates are better prepared to enter the workforce and prosper in both their professional and personal lives.

Since its launch in 2019, Opportunity Kitchen has graduated 31 students from the training program. Graduates have gone on to work at local restaurants, bakeries, hotels and coffee shops. To inquire about program participation, please visit and submit an inquiry through the contact form.

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