Soaring to New Heights

Lazarus House Offers Work Training and a Way Out of Poverty

Maria Montero opens the photo gallery on her phone and proudly shows off images of her delectable creations. The pictures evoke knowing grins and murmurs of approval from her attentive audience.

Montero is a success story. 

She is one the scores of graduates of the Work Preparation Training program offered by Lazarus House Ministries. The Lawrence-based social services agency provides multiple options to help families and individuals find a path out of poverty and homelessness. Participants can sign up for ESOL, pre-employment skills or culinary training. Another option is the Spark*L.E. program that provides training for residential, office and industrial cleaning.

Montero enrolled in the food training course four years ago. At its completion, she took a paid internship at a local preschool. After completion, she was offered a job in the kitchen at a nursing home. From there she started Dulces Marion, a Dominican dessert business she operates out of her Whitman Street home. “The program will change your life,” Montero says while sitting in a conference room at Lazarus House with two proud daughters who help with the business.

Montero’s story and others are rewarding and encouraging, but should not be surprising, say the staff at Lazarus House. “The key is to somehow remind them of how valuable they are,” says former executive director Bridget Shaheen. Shaheen, who retired in June after 36 years at the Lazarus House, says she was blessed by the opportunity to know people they serve. 

Staff at Lazarus House repeatedly sees the dedication of the students who enroll in the work preparation training programs. They form bonds, study together, give each other rides and offer support.

Maria Montero is a graduate of the Work Preparation Training program offered by Lazarus House Ministries. Photos by Kevin Harkins.

One student, education specialist Kae LeFebre recalls, worked as a dishwasher in a restaurant before enrolling in the program and learning English and additional job skills. After graduation, he rose in the ranks from prep cook to executive chef. Another perfected her cake decorating skills and saved enough money to open Delish Bakery and Cafe on South Broadway. A few months after it opened and just as the shop was beginning to flourish, Delish was forced to close as a result of the September 2018 gas explosion disaster. It has since reopened and is now welcoming program interns from Lazarus House.

In the culinary classes, students spend three mornings a week in the classroom and two in the pantry. At the end of the intensive class schedule, participants are ready to take the national ServSafe Manager Certification exam administered by the National Restaurant Association. After completing 200 hours of training, they are placed in a 10-week paid internship.

Many Merrimack Valley chefs have donated time to teach or have hosted interns since the program began over a decade ago. Restaurateur and developer Joe Faro of Tuscan Kitchen fame donated the equipment in the kitchen. 

In the SPARK*L.E. program (the L.E. stands for Lazarus Employment), students gain the skills to clean commercially and residentially. More importantly, they gain job experience, says Linda Vincent, the education and work preparation coordinator. The program began 25 years ago as a way for students to practice English and receive job readiness training.

“It gives them a step up,” Vincent says. Graduates will go on to work as cleaners in warehouses, as home health aides or personal care assistants, or in a variety of other fields. “They are such an inspiration to me,” Vincent says.

If you are interested in volunteering for the culinary program, employing an intern or hiring workforce-ready individuals for permanent employment, contact Linda Vincent at (978) 269-5207 or linda@lazarushouse.org.  

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