March 4, 2019

This nonprofit trains refugees to fill a worker shortage in New York City’s restaurants

Meet the finalists for the 2019 Renewal Awards, a program of The Atlantic and Allstate. Five winners will receive a $20,000 prize from Allstate.

The nonprofit Emma's Torch is named after the poet who penned the verse on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Editor’s note: Meet the finalists for 2019 The Renewal Awards. The annual program that honors nonprofits that are creatively solving problems in their communities is a project of The Atlantic and Allstate. This year, five winners each will receive a $20,000 prize from Allstate. Winners will be announced April 3 at The Renewal Summit in New York City. You can watch a live stream of the event, which begins at 9:30 a.m. EDT, on our Facebook page.

The people behind Emma’s Torch believe cooking can bring financial independence, and also build a sense of belonging.

The Brooklyn-based nonprofit focuses on workforce development for refugees and immigrants, helping them build new lives and careers in the culinary industry. Emma’s Torch collaborates with chefs and restaurants in the industry to bring training and experiences to the program participants, as well as provide job placement after each student graduates. A worker shortage in New York City’s restaurant industry makes the partnership a win-win.

“Our services give our students the opportunity to pursue their culinary dreams, and build new lives,” says Kerry Brodie, founder and Executive Director of Emma’s Torch. “We hope to inspire and motivate our students to pursue their dreams, and know that they deserve that opportunity.”

[ Read: Meet the finalists for the 2019 Renewal Awards ]

The nonprofit was founded in 2016, and its name was inspired by the poem written on the pedestal Statue of Liberty, by Emma Lazarus: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Last year, 22 students graduated from the program, while four students have graduated in 2019 so far. And the program will only continue to grow. Emma’s Torch collaborates with more than 30 resettlement agencies and homeless shelters in the New York area to find participants who then refer friends and family members.

What’s in store for the future? Emma’s Torch hopes to expand their ESL and interview preparation classes, along with other “soft skills,” so that each participant is better equipped for the workforce.

“We are asking our students to fundamentally change their lives in 12 short weeks. Making sure that we respect the journey that they are each on is a challenge, but also a real opportunity,” says Brodie.

An important aspect of the organization is that participants get to build a new life, but also embrace where they’re from, by showcasing their own culinary culture and influences.

“We’ll know we’ve succeeded when our students pursue their dreams,” Brodie says.

Follow Emma’s Torch on Twitter @EmmasTorch. Donate to the nonprofit here.

Caitlin Fairchild

Caitlin Fairchild is the associate editor of The Renewal Project.