Opportunity Youth


More than 5 million people between the ages of 16 and 24 are neither enrolled in school nor working today in the U.S. — and recent studies show more than 75 percent of these disconnected young people, known as “opportunity youth,” seek gainful employment to improve their quality of life.

The NRAEF’s Opportunity Youth-Restaurant Ready (OY-RR) is a national program to engage and empower disengaged OY to pursue a path to employment and life-long success. Piloted from the fall of 2016 to the fall of 2017, the NRAEF is expanding the program from 5 pilot locations to 15 total locations in 2018.

The pilot program allowed us to gather findings and recommendations on how to successfully launch a program that benefits the OY population, empowers the community organizations working with the youth and engages disconnected young people with opportunities for employment in the restaurant industry.

The program provides training for disconnected youth in 6 work-ready competency areas defined by the restaurant industry — competencies which are critical for OY to be ready to work throughout their careers, regardless of the industry.

Serving as the backbone organization, the NRAEF acts as convener of OY-RR, uniting CBOs, industry and SRAs to ensure OY-RR meets the guidelines for a successful and effective OY program. The program:
  • Sets industry standards for a nationally-calibrated soft-skills training and skill assessment;
  • Enables industry employers to define the key skills opportunity youth need; and
  • Improves the employers’ understanding of value in hiring, supporting and retaining opportunity youth

Overall Goals

  • Establish the restaurant industry as a model of a supportive, welcoming environment for OY.
  • Bridge the gap between CBOs and employers.
  • Substantiate the restaurant industry as a model of employment, development and advancement.
  • Secure additional funding and resources to support opportunity youth in the industry.
  • Foster ongoing collaboration among participants (CBOs, employers, NRAEF, SRAs).
  • Provide a national standard assessment.

Cohort 1 – Pilot Sites

Café Momentum – Dallas, TX

Located in Dallas, Texas, Café Momentum is a teaching restaurant that provides culinary, job, and life-skill training for at-risk and formerly incarcerated young adults. The site offers a 12-month internship program after completing a 13-week orientation. They also provide mentoring and support.

Café Reconcile – New Orleans, LA

Headquartered in New Orleans, Louisiana since its founding in 1999, Café Reconcile offers a life skills and hospitality job training program for at-risk youth aged 16-24. These students come to Café Reconcile with a desire to make a positive impact on their lives. In this 11-week program, accepted youth learn life, job, and educational skills needed to gain employment in food service and other hospitality professions. At the close of the program, youth have access to employers looking for trained youth.

DC Central Kitchen – Washington, DC

For the past 28 years, DC Central Kitchen (Washington, D.C.) prepares adults who previously faced homelessness, addiction, incarceration, trauma, and chronic unemployment for jobs in the culinary arts. Additionally, DC Central Kitchen then hires several of their own graduates to prepare meals for local homeless shelters, schools, and non-profits. Eleven staff help run the 12-week program and they are supported by some industry partners and foundations.

Rancho Cielo – Salinas, CA

Rancho Cielo Drummond Culinary Academy is dedicated to providing at-risk youth with an opportunity to gain classroom training, work experience and transferrable skills that help them become employable in the culinary and hospitality industry. They focus on at-risk youth in the immediate area in a work environment in which students are challenged and accountable, but also feel respected. 

The Matthews House – Fort Collins, CO

Based in in Fort Collins, Colorado, The Matthews House provides various programs to help local youth and their family transition to self-sufficiency. They focus on five areas to help youth build and maintain necessary attributes for independence: Safe and Affordable Housing; Physical & Mental Health; Employment; Education; and Independent Living & Social Skills.

For a closer look at the Opportunity Youth pilot program’s findings and recommendations, download the NRAEF’s executive summary.


Want to learn more about OY? Find out how to get involved. Contact:

Caroline Eckert
Manager, Program Development
National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation
(202) 973-5395