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Gift of $1.1M by Local Restaurateur Hu Odom Helps Build Next Generation of Restaurant Leaders

Norfolk Public Schools Celebrate Launch of Nationally Recognized ProStart® Culinary Arts & Restaurant Management Training Program

NORFOLK, VA – September, 4, 2019 - Future top chefs and restaurateurs—students of Maury High School and Norfolk Technical Center, were joined by Mayor Kenny Alexander, Dawn Sweeney, President and CEO of the National Restaurant Association and Dr. Sharon Byrdsong, Superintendent of Norfolk Public Schools, at 8:30am Wednesday, September 4th to celebrate the launch of the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s (NRAEF) ProStart® program. A generous $1.1 million donation by local restaurateur Houston “Hu” Odom will fund the launch of the two-year culinary arts and restaurant management program.

“Created by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, ProStart is the best initiation and early training I know of for the restaurant industry,” said Hu Odom, president and founder of BOTH, Inc. which owns 21 Golden Corral franchises in five states. “Many low-income and otherwise disadvantaged high school students don’t have access to ProStart or any other similar program. Perhaps private funding can help open the door to these students to give them an opportunity for easier access to the restaurant industry, restaurant management and the culinary arts. And that's what we're trying to achieve here in Norfolk, Virginia.”



Other high-ranking VIPs and area dignitaries at today’s ProStart event included NRAEF President Rob Gifford, Norfolk Public Schools Board Chair Dr. Noëlle M. Gabriel and Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association’s (VRLTA) President and CEO Eric Terry and other valued supporters. VIPs and attendees were treated to ProStart-inspired foods and toured the program facility.  
 
“We are excited and grateful when industry icons like Hu Odom invest in the next generation of restaurant and foodservice leaders,” said Rob Gifford, president of the NRAEF. “Hu’s donation will ensure young people in Norfolk and Hampton Roads can obtain the skills and training they need to pursue any of the limitless job and career opportunities our industry has to offer.”

NPS Dignitaries; Dr. Sharon Byrdsong, Superintendent of Norfolk Public Schools; Norfolk Public Schools Board Chair Dr. Noëlle M. Gabriel; Eric Terry, Virginia Restaurant, Travel & Lodging Association President and CEO; the Honorable Kenny Alexander, Mayor of Norfolk; Hu and Evie Odom; Dawn Sweeney, President and CEO of the National Restaurant Association; and Rob Gifford, President of the NRAEF, pose for a photo in celebration of ProStart’s launch in Norfolk.


Hu Odom’s donation will allow for direct investments in local classrooms to ensure that students have the training and work readiness skills needed for success in Virginia’s growing hospitality industry. “Whether ProStart students go on to a career in the restaurant industry really isn’t important. My hope is that students can take the skills learned in ProStart and leverage them in whatever industry they choose to pursue,” Hu Odom said.

"I'm very excited about ProStart and I'm looking forward to seeing what the year has to offer," said Jahquan Christopher, a senior at Lake Taylor High School who attends the program at Norfolk Technical Center. "I can't wait to get started."

“We are excited and grateful when industry icons like Hu Odom invest in the next generation of restaurant and foodservice leaders,” said Rob Gifford, president of the NRAEF. “Hu’s donation will ensure young people in Norfolk and Hampton Roads can obtain the skills and training they need to pursue any of the limitless job and career opportunities our industry has to offer.”
 
Odom’s donation to ProStart was given in conjunction with the seven-figure donation he also made to Tidewater Community College to further broaden his philanthropic impact on Hampton Roads’ next generation of leaders.

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About the NRAEF:  As the philanthropic foundation of the National Restaurant Association, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s mission of service to the public is dedicated to enhancing the industry’s training and education, career development and community engagement efforts. The NRAEF and its programs work to attract, empower and advance today’s and tomorrow’s restaurant and foodservice workforce. NRAEF programs include: ProStart® – a high-school career and technical education program; Restaurant Ready – partnering with community based organizations to provide opportunity youth and previously incarcerated individuals with skills training and job opportunities; Military – helping military servicemen and women transition their skills to restaurant and foodservice careers; Scholarships – financial assistance for students pursuing restaurant, foodservice and hospitality degrees; and, the Hospitality Sector Registered Apprenticeship project – a partnership with the American Hotel & Lodging Association providing a hospitality apprenticeship program for the industry. For more information on the NRAEF, visit ChooseRestaurants.org.
 

About the VRLTA:  Founded in 1993, VRLTA was formed to create a singular voice for the RestaurantHotel-LodgingTravel, and Hospitality Suppliers Associations of Virginia. Many of these individual associations were born in the 60s, and each is still recognized with seats on the VRLTA board of Directors to provide oversight and craft legislative positions for the areas that impact these industries.

By joining together in the early 90s, these individual associations were able to bring a much stronger, clearer voice to further the legislative priorities and interests of Virginia's Restaurants, Hotels, Attractions, and Destinations in front of Virginia's General Assembly and regulatory agencies. VRLTA's top priority is to prevent higher taxes that would burden the hospitality, travel, and entertainment industries.


CONTACT:
Jasmine Jones, NRAEF
Jajones@nraef.org
202-315-4101
 

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