Creating sustainable lives for refugees with the University of Denver’s Ready for American Hospitality (RAH) program

The Ready for American Hospitality program, also known as RAH, is a collaboration between the African Community Center, a refugee resettlement agency in Denver, and the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management at the University of Denver. The program began in 2012 with the mission of creating sustainable lives for refugees and enabling effective learning experiences for responsible leadership. Since its establishment, the program has accommodated over 300 refugee students, asylum seekers, and immigrants.

Not only does RAH offer food safety, it also offers exposure to culture in the United States, allowing its students to be empowered as they immerse into the city of Denver, according to program manager Anthony Cherwinski.

“It’s really about US workplace culture and helping people get ahead in a way that is unique and has proven to empower people as they integrate in the community here in Denver,” says Cherwinski.  

Refugee students at work in the kitchen

Executive Chef Timothy Downs explains the basics of what the students in the RAH program are instructed to do.

Chef Downs slicing a mango

“They spend about five or six weeks learning about the hospitality industry,” says Downs. “We teach them etiquette, cleanliness, and Serve Safe.”

On February 20th, during the last week of the program, the refugees prepared apply their new skills and staff a fine dining event held at DU.

“This is kind of a collaboration of their whole five to six weeks where they can come down and apply some of the work they’ve been learning,” says Downs.

Hospitality students at the University of Denver often take on a mentorship role with the refugees in the RAH program. Through this relationship, the program is designed to benefit both the DU hospitality students as well as the refugees and prepare both groups to enter the hospitality world.  

The Meyer Family Kitchen located in the hospitality building on campus

“[The DU hospitality students] have to learn how to work with a diverse group force, experience cross cultural communication—how to go about that relationship and that process, how to train someone who might not know english perfectly, and they have to carry that forward with them into the future,” said Cherwinski. “It’s a perfect marriage.”

The refugee students acquire various new skills including an increased english speaking ability that will hopefully stay with them long after they graduate.

87% of RAH students are employed within 30 days of graduation, earning an average hourly wage of $13.45, according to the program’s website.

Brussel sprouts that Amel was peeling

Amel from Iraq says she likes working in the kitchen doing anything whether it’s cooking or doing the dishes, and hopes to leverage the program into a career in the hospitality field.

In the future, the RAH program hopes to expand into a new student-run hotel development as well as other on-campus hospitality organizations and will continue to serve refugees in the Denver area for years to come.

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