If chef hats had tassels, the first graduating culinary arts class of Goodwill’s Helms College would have moved them from right to left on Thursday.
Ten students completed the final day of class, receiving their culinary education diplomas by Helms College instructors, staff members and other Goodwill employees who lined the school hallway banging pots, pans and metal bowls.
The graduates were the inaugural class from Helms, an institute operated by Goodwill Industries of Middle Georgia and the CSRA. The college started in Macon, Ga., in 2007 and expanded to its Augusta campus on Washington Road at Furys Ferry Road last year.
“(The diploma) gives them that entry-level education where they can go to any kitchen and comfortably work through the ranks,” said chef David Ross, the culinary education department chairman.
Haley Saxon, 20, teared up thinking about how she transformed a rocky start after high school graduation into a budding career. She moved to Savannah, Ga., to take culinary classes at a technical school but had to move home to Waynesboro when her living situation did not work out.
Taking classes near home helped Saxon work part time at the Augusta Country Club and 5 O’Clock Bistro. She will continue both positions but work more hours.
“Chef Ross and the other chefs work very well with us. If we ever needed extra help or extra one-on-one time, they were willing to give it to us,” Saxon said.
When classes began last October, the kitchen was still under construction. Students helped unpack and organize boxes of mixers, pots, utensils and other kitchen items.
“You’ve gotten us off to a really good and strong start,” said Lisa Summins, the Helms College’s vice president for academics. “We actually physically built a kitchen.”
For graduate Harold Wall, Helms College helped him embark on a second career. Wall, of Aiken, lost his manufacturing job during the economic downturn.
He always wanted to be a professional chef, and he found the Helms College program just five days before the first class day.
“I had to find a whole new career,” Wall said. “With this presenting itself locally, it’s almost like it was meant to be.”