Community Kitchen founder speaks at job fair for special population

Robert Egger spoke to hundreds at a job fair specifically geared toward special populations Thursday (Photo, pamphlet provided by Rochester Rehabilitation)

Rochester, N.Y. - Robert Egger said when he came up with the idea to start a community kitchen and hire former addicts and felons, people thought he was crazy.

No one wanted to help him with this idea, so he did it himself. What started as a way to employ workers with a past or other challenges turned into an operation that fed thousands and evolved into a self-sustained, nationally-known culinary school.

Egger spoke to hundreds of people at a job fair for special populations. It was sponsored by Wegmans and run by Rochester Rehabilitation.

While Egger said there is still a fear about hiring people with a past or with challenges, he added, "It's risky to hire anyone to do a job."

He said most people really want to work - not just for the money, but because it gives them self-worth and a sense of identity.

He said the perfect model for this is a partnership between businesses and not-for-profits.

This is how Steve Piotter found a job after ten years of searching. He said his severe learning disabilities made it difficult for him to finish school and without a high school degree. He said he couldn't even get an interview.

But then he heard about training programs through Rochester Rehabilitation. He said they believed in him and hired him.

He has been promoted twice and is now the senior team leader of the Janitorial Department.

Rochester Rehab provides job training and partners with local businesses, like ConServe, to employ people with challenges.

The one thing they need more than anything is for more businesses to work with them to hire individuals with training.

Sara Taylor of Rochester Rehab said businesses can get tax incentives and wage reimbursement if they hire people with special needs or challenges.

She said they are seeking companies that believe in inclusion and who want to diversify their workforce. Taylor said they stand behind every worker they place and stay involved, offering support and making sure they don't have problems getting to their job or have any other issues.

They won't place workers until they are fully-trained and ready to take on the position.

Piotter said his friends and family cannot believe how far he has come and are very proud of him.

He loves his job and loves coming to work everyday.

Egger said that is true with most people facing challenges. They want to work and should be given the same chance as anyone else to make a living and make a difference in life.

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