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Clark State College Named Finalist for 2023 Bellwether Award for Partnership with The Abilities Connection

Clark State College Named Finalist for 2023 Bellwether Award for Partnership with The Abilities Connection

November 22, 2022

Clark State College has been named a finalist for the prestigious Bellwether Award. Clark State was nominated in the category of Planning, Governance, and Finance which recognizes programs or activities that improve college efficiency and effectiveness. A Bellwether Finalist is a community college with a program that scores highest in the first round of competition and is invited to compete in the final round of award competition.

The Bellwether College Consortium issued a call for nominations in the summer of 2022. Clark State’s Bellwether nomination focused on its partnership with The Abilities Connection (TAC) which houses its Fresh Abilities restaurant food service training program at Clark State.

The Bellwether Awards annually recognize outstanding and innovative programs and practices that are successfully leading community colleges into the future. Winners and finalists are invited to join the prestigious Bellwether College Consortium. Finalists are competitively selected based upon how well the program addresses: the conference theme; an identified critical issue; and the published criteria.

“Our community is always strengthened by collaboration, and this partnership with TAC is an example for all of us in the region to be proud of,” said Dr. Jo Alice Blondin, president of Clark State. “The innovation represented by Fresh Abilities and our training capacities is worthy of this recognition, and we are honored to be a finalist.”

Ten finalists were selected in each category: Instructional Programs and Services; Planning, Governance and Finance; and Workforce Development. Workforce development includes public and/or private strategic alliances and partnerships that promote community and economic development.

TAC is an organization that empowers people with disabilities and other barriers to reach their full potential through meaningful employment, training, and support. Fresh Abilities was established by TAC as a unique training program intended create a pipeline for workers with disabilities and other barriers interested in working in the food service industry. Fresh Abilities employees complete over 110 hours of training in food service, including food safety and preparation, customer service, and other related skills. Trainees then transition to working in the Fresh Abilities restaurant to gain hands-on experience in an in-demand industry before pursuing employment in local food service businesses.

Clark State provides the classroom portion of training for Fresh Abilities employees. This partnership allows for additional instruction to encompass skill building for future employment in any type of restaurant. With this classroom training on the Clark State campus, prospective students who may not have anticipated attending college are also exposed to higher education. 

Bridget Doane, manager of commercial enterprises at The Abilities Connection, said the Clark State partnership with TAC has shown incredible benefits, not only for TAC but for many people with disabilities and other barriers in the community.

Doane stated TAC is grateful for the innovative partnership with Clark State on the Fresh Abilities program and offered congratulations on its behalf.

“We’ve seen our trainees thrive in this new environment on Clark State’s campus, with their classroom and hands-on kitchen experience taking place all within one building on a campus of higher education,” said Doane. “We are certain this training model is replicable in similar settings, and we look forward to sharing the story of Fresh Abilities with community colleges from across the country.”

Finalists will compete for the 2023 Bellwether Award at the 29th Annual Community College Futures Assembly (CCFA). This nationally recognized award identifies and honors outstanding and innovative community college programs in each award category.

“The significance of the Bellwether Award is that the winning programs are replicable, scalable, equity-focused, and demonstrate evidence-based success, shared Rose Martinez, Ph.D., director for the Bellwether College Consortium. “With the complexity of issues facing our community colleges today, these finalists are extraordinary examples of colleges providing scalable solutions to tough challenges.”

The CCFA convenes annually as an independent national forum for innovators to work as a think tank. It identifies successful responses to critical issues facing the future of community colleges and hosts its national award competition annually. The Assembly will be held Sunday, February 26, through Tuesday, February 28, in San Antonio, Texas.

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