La Cocina VA: Using Food as an Agent for Social and Economic Change

Caitlin Furey January 2018

La Cocina VA, located in Arlington, Virginia, offers immigrant adults the necessary tools and resources to overcome poverty and create a better, healthier future for themselves, their families, and future generations. Using a bilingual culinary training program, La Cocina VA trains, certifies and places low-income immigrants in meaningful jobs in the food service industry, while improving their English language skills. The nonprofit also incorporates food assistance for the hungry, greater accessibility to healthy affordable foods, and nutrition awareness to reduce obesity and improve health. To date, 84 individuals have graduated from the culinary training program, and in 2017, it achieved a 100% job placement rate.

In November, the Crimsonbridge Foundation and the Crimsonbridge Group awarded La Cocina VA a grant for $10,000 to launch an online tool which will provide customized vocabulary software for English language learners, integrating content from La Cocina’s curriculum in culinary arts, food safety, job readiness, financial intelligence, and nutrition. The tool will supplement and strengthen the existing English language curriculum, which was redeveloped in 2016 with the support of the Crimsonbridge Foundation. The 13-week in-class curriculum is extensive, but La Cocina found, through surveys and feedback obtained from graduates of the program and employer partners, that English proficiency continued to be an obstacle for career development. The new online tool will offer students at least 10 additional hours a week to tailored English content and will allow instructors to more efficiently manage the different English levels of their students, providing them with content according to their needs.

“La Cocina VA combats unemployment, poverty and a lack of entrepreneurship opportunities through programs that develop technical skills and English proficiency. We put students in contact with businesses that need qualified employees, building community through the strength and power of undiscovered workers, entrepreneurs, and leaders” says, Patricia Funegra, the Founder and CEO of La Cocina VA. “Thanks to Crimsonbridge we will be able to broaden our impact by providing students and graduates with remote access to additional learning hours using a new online tool that will help increase their English proficiency.”

Funegra has exciting plans for the future of the nonprofit: in 2019, expansion to a new facility will allow La Cocina to significantly increase the number of people served through its programs. The new space will feature Northern Virginia’s first Kitchen Incubator, which will empower minority entrepreneurs to launch and grow food-related businesses by providing shared commercial kitchen space, access to capital, English and business development classes.