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NCCTI Helps Formerly Homeless Student on Path to Success

New Community Career & Technical Institute Culinary Arts student Jerrell Mann is now the lead cook at Better Life, where he also resides. Photo courtesy of Jerrell Mann.

New Community Career & Technical Institute (NCCTI) offers more than just a quality post-secondary education. The instruction it provides sets students on a path to success, often with life-changing results.

Jerrell Mann first became aware of New Community in 2018 when he became a resident of Better Life, which provides supportive housing units for chronically homeless individuals, as well as an engagement center for area homeless individuals and respite services for individuals in crisis who have mental health or substance abuse issues. New Community built, owns and manages the building and contracts with Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey (CSPNJ) as the service provider.

Mann noticed people coming to Better Life’s engagement center to eat. He knew how to cook and offered to help with food preparation. He started volunteering at the facility and Better Life Director Shareatha Webster suggested Mann pursue a culinary arts degree so he could help in an official capacity. She told him about the Culinary Arts Specialist program offered at NCCTI, which is within walking distance of Better Life.

Mann enrolled in NCCTI’s Culinary Arts Specialist program in January 2020. He was unemployed and decided to seize the opportunity that presented itself. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, classes were put on hold. But Mann didn’t give up on the opportunity and returned to the program once it was safe to resume.

He has finished the class portion of the Culinary Arts Specialist program and is now completing his internship at Better Life, where he is serving as the lead cook. He will soon take his certification test, which is the final step.

“I’m most proud of Jerrell’s commitment to completing the program during the uncertainty of the health crisis,” said NCCTI Director Rodney Brutton. “The feedback I’ve received from his instructors is he has excellent cooking skills and leadership skills. It’s a great fit for Jerrell to serve in a leadership role for CSPNJ’s food service activities.”

New Community CEO Richard Rohrman said Mann’s story shows how the organization’s offerings can touch the lives of individuals in multiple ways, helping catapult people to success.

“It is always rewarding to see our efforts in action. Comprehensive services combined with a motivated person are an unbeatable combination,” Rohrman said. “I had the opportunity to meet Jerrell on a visit to Better Life some time ago. He was in the kitchen preparing food for the clients as a volunteer. You could tell from his upbeat friendly attitude that he was going to succeed. Congratulations to you Jerrell and thank you for all you do for those around you.”

Mann has always had a knack for cooking and enjoys the response he gets when cooking for others in need.

“Something that comes naturally to you is really making a difference for somebody. And that’s all the motivation that’s needed,” Mann said. “Because it’s not easy every day in the kitchen but having that satisfaction of knowing that your food is being liked by someone who really appreciates it, that’s my favorite part.”

Before the pandemic, Mann would cook for engagement center guests, volunteering in the Better Life kitchen six days a week. Now he prepares and packages food to be delivered to a local men’s shelter. Better Life hopes to reopen the engagement center to offer to-go meals for guests soon.

Better Life Director Shareatha Webster said she first met Mann when he came to ask to use a fax machine.

“I didn’t have a fax machine so I agreed to allow him to use my computer so he could email the documents. I asked him in return for this favor, if could he make pancakes for the center members on Saturdays. That quickly changed from Saturdays to Monday to Friday preparing breakfast and lunch,” she said. “Individuals came from all over to be a part of the center from 20 members in July 2018 to 1,000 by January.”

Mann grew up in Orange and later moved to West Orange. He attended Seton Hall University where he pursued a degree in English. After that, he worked as a middle school basketball coach and later as a stagehand in New York building entertainment stages for events like ballets and concerts for 11 years. After some struggles, he found himself at Better Life. He is grateful for the opportunities he has had since arriving and said he is happy with “the transformation from where I was to where I’m going.”

Lead Culinary Arts Specialist Instructor Jonathan Butler said Mann made great strides in class and finished his instruction as a chef.

“In the industry, people know there’s a difference between a chef and a cook,” Butler said. “He is one of the few students I had in all these years that left here as a chef and not a cook.”

Butler said with the training and dedication Mann has, in addition to working in a kitchen, he could also supervise a chef brigade.

Mann said learning from the NCCTI Culinary Arts Specialist instructors has made him a better cook and a better man.

“Watching them and learning from them has been a great experience,” Mann said. “If you want to learn what the industry does and get employment somewhere, the NCCTI Culinary Arts program is the track you need to be on.”

NCCTI is currently accepting applications for its accredited post-secondary programs. The online application is available at the school’s website, Despite the pandemic, employers are looking to hire graduates in all areas of instruction.

NCCTI is an accredited post-secondary career and technical institution that offers the following programs: Automotive Technician, Diesel Technician, Building Trades Specialist, Clinical Medical Assistant, Patient Care Technician, Community Healthcare Worker, Culinary Arts Specialist and Business and Computer Technologies. NCCTI also operates a comprehensive Financial Opportunity Center and Bridges to Career Opportunities Program sponsored by the local and national Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) offices. For more information, call 973-824-6484, log onto or visit 274 South Orange Ave., Newark.

Better Life offers supportive services with three distinct offerings: an engagement center, respite services and supportive housing. New Community built, owns and manages the building and contracts with Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey (CSPNJ) as the service provider. Better Life is located at 101 Fourteenth Ave., Newark. For more information, call 862-229-1400.