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Clark State Named Finalist for AACC Award of Excellence for Partnership with The Abilities Connection

Clark State Named Finalist for AACC Award of Excellence for Partnership with The Abilities Connection

January 27, 2023

Clark State College has been named a finalist for the 2023 American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) Awards of Excellence in the category of Outstanding College/Corporate Partnership for its partnership with The Abilities Connection (TAC).

“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.”

The AACC Awards of Excellence underscore the association’s priorities and brings national visibility to promising practices among its member colleges.

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.”

Each college’s application is reviewed against the criteria for the AACC Excellence award and assigned a score for each category. Those colleges with the highest scores move on to become finalists. The AACC staff narrows applications down, and a committee of the board of directors selects the winners.

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) is the primary advocacy organization for the nation’s community colleges. The association represents more than 1,000 2-year, associate degree-granting institutions and nearly 12 million students.

Winners will be announced at the Awards of Excellence Gala on April 3 during the AACC Annual conference, April 1 through 4 in Denver, Colorado.

Media Contact

Crystal Jones Vice President of Marketing, Diversity and Community Impact