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Start 2018 with a new career! SER is Now Enrolling!

Posted December 21

Participate in a hands-on training and get help finding employment.  Complete the on-line application ... Read more...

Nory Angel, SER CEO, to leave organization in 2018

Posted December 11

On behalf of the Board of Directors and staff at SER-Jobs for Progress, Inc., we would like to share with you that Nory... Read more...

Capital campaign officially kicks off!

Posted September 21

SER publicly announced its Pathways to Potential capital campaign with a news conference held at the site of its new... Read more...

Vernetta Harrison

From the time she was very young, Vernetta Harrison dreamed of a career in the culinary industry. Although there were impediments in her path, Vernetta knew that her dream would one day become a reality.

Born in Houston, Texas, Vernetta’s early life was chaotic. Her mother was involved with drugs, and her father was an alcoholic.

At six months of age, Vernetta was taken away from her parents and placed with her grandparents in Acres Homes. It was a loving environment where Vernetta grew up cooking with her grandfather and grew very close to both of her grandparents.

When she was six, Vernetta’s grandfather passed away and she struggled to cope.

“My world felt like it ended,” said Vernetta, “That’s when my troubles started.”

Vernetta kept some of her most painful struggles a secret and acted out in different ways, including self-medicating with marijuana.

“I had been molested [by a relative] (starting at age 12), but never told anyone until recently because I knew my grandmother would [not stand for it], and I would lose her, too.”

She made some mistakes along the way and was charged with theft at 17. After completing a year of probation, the charge was adjudicated. With her grandmother’s support, Vernetta overcame these challenges, did well in school and graduated at the age of 18.

After high school, Vernetta was distracted and lacked direction. Unsure of what to do next, she put her dreams on hold and worked a variety of jobs, but nothing related to the culinary industry.  

Eventually, Vernetta decided to return to school, studying photography at the Art Institute of Houston while simultaneously working in home healthcare. When her low wages simply weren’t enough to support her family and the pursuit of her education, she was lured into selling drugs for the quick money it promised.  

Shortly after starting the Art Institute, Vernetta was arrested for a serious drug-related crime. She dropped out of school, pled guilty to the charge, and received a three-year sentence in federal prison. While incarcerated, she successfully completed a drug rehabilitation program, and after serving 18 months, was released on parole in May of 2017.

“As soon as I got out of prison, I heard about SER,” said Vernetta, now 34.

Career Coaches from SER’s Training-to-Work program (for ex-offenders) visited the halfway house where Vernetta was staying.

“They came and [told us] about all the [training] programs that SER offered, including welding, forklift, and culinary,” said Vernetta.

As soon as she heard about SER’s culinary class, in partnership with the Houston Food Bank, Vernetta knew that the time was right for her to get back on track and pursue her childhood dream.

“I always knew I wanted to pursue a culinary [career],” said Vernetta. “I just didn’t know how to go about it.”

Vernetta immediately signed up for the class. It started with two weeks of job readiness training where she learned how to write a resume, participated in mock interviews, and learned how to create an elevator speech.

“When you meet someone, you never know what opportunities they may present to you,” said Vernetta, “[an elevator speech] was helpful so I was ready to present myself.”

Vernetta fully committed to the program, including 12 weeks of culinary training that had its fair share of obstacles.

When Hurricane Harvey hit in late August, all residents of the halfway house had to briefly return to prison for two weeks following the storm. During that time, Vernetta was worried about losing her place in the class. The culinary instructor recognized Vernetta’s commitment and agreed to hold her spot as long as she could. As soon as Vernetta returned to the halfway house, she got back into class.

After graduating in October, Vernetta was hoping to be one of the program participants chosen to interview with the Houston Food Bank for a permanent, full-time job. While waiting to hear from the food bank, Vernetta decided to take another SER training with encouragement from her career coach.

With continued support from numerous SER staff members, Vernetta stayed focused on her end goal.

“They were always there for me, helping me with my resume, sending me on interviews,” said Vernetta, “They never stopped helping me keep my eye on the prize.”

Before completing the Hospitality course, Vernetta received the long-awaited call from the Houston Food Bank to interview for the position of Production Assistant for the children’s food program. To her joy and excitement, Vernetta was offered and accepted the position, which included a good starting wage and benefits.

 “[The Houston Food Bank’s] benefits include life insurance, medical, dental, vision,” said Vernetta, “they even provide insurance for your pets!”

Vernetta is amazed at how things have transpired for her since she found SER, Training to Work, and the Serving for Success program.

“The whole experience has been awesome,” said Vernetta, “because, coming out of prison, you’re worried that no one will hire you.

“I’ve only been home [from prison] for six months, but I can already say that I have an awesome job, I’ve been able to buy a brand-new truck, and I have a little money in my pocket.”

Vernetta plans to spend her entire career at the Houston Food Bank, save money, and when she retires, wants to become an entrepreneur.

 “I would love to have my own food truck further down the line,” said Vernetta, “but I’m still young and there is lots of time.”

Although SER and the Houston Food Bank have helped support Vernetta’s journey, she knows that she is ultimately responsible for her success.

“It’s all about willpower and [working toward a goal],” said Vernetta, “I knew what I wanted and I stayed focused.”

“I was able to accomplish [my goal of] completing [Serving for Success’] culinary class, and I was very proud of myself”, said Vernetta, “It really changed my life!”