Seniors served by Job Corps students in Falcon Heights

Chef Chris O’Neal and his students from the Hubert H. Humphrey Job Corps Center served food to residents June 10 at Falcon Heights Town Square Senior Apartments. The food preparation area whirred with activity. (Mike Munzenrider photos)

Residents, some in their 90s, enjoyed a free lunch of Mexican food.

Mexican food was on the lunch menu June 10 at the Falcon Heights Town Square Senior Apartments, and culinary arts students from the Hubert H. Humphrey Job Corps Center were there to serve it.

Led by Chef Chris O’Neal, an eight-year Job Corps veteran, the students in smocks and white hats prepared food, took orders and delivered plates to seniors in a packed social room at the apartment complex.

Located just off the corner of Snelling and Larpenteur avenues, the senior apartments are a half mile from the St. Paul Job Corps campus, located across the street from the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

O’Neal said that Job Corps, a federal program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, provides free vocational training to young people ages 16 to 24. It also helps them earn their high school diploma or equivalence and offers English Language Learning programs, along with other academic support.

Some 260 students live in dorms at the eight-acre Job Corps campus, the former location of Bethel College. The center opened in 1981 and is named after Minnesota’s own 38th vice president of the United States.

Originally from Georgia, O’Neal said once students are certified in his culinary arts program, they’re placed in six-week internships. From there, his students enjoy a 95% job placement rate.

As for serving residents at the senior apartments, the chef said it provides the young people under his tutelage experience they can’t get in the classroom.

“Working with the elderly gives the kids a sense of pride and a level of respect,” O’Neal said, pointing out that how they work with seniors can be a good tool to measure the potential of their future success.

Previous to the Monday lunch that included beef or chicken quesadillas, Spanish rice and other sides, Terry Roehrig II, the assistant property manager at the complex, said O’Neal and the students had served breakfasts, with made-to-order omelettes, crepes, hashbrowns and more.

Roehrig said he’d heard through the grapevine about O’Neal, who brings the students in at no charge to the apartments nor the seniors who eat — it’s neighbors helping neighbors.

Folks gladly asked for seconds and the poised students gladly served them up. Roehrig made a quick announcement, thanking Job Corps for coming out, and residents applauded.

A transplant from New York, New York, resident Francis Wingate dined with others from the building, some of whom she said were in their 90s. She’ll be 80 next year.

Wingate, who’s lived in the building for just more than a decade and said she’s finally settling into being there — she came west to be closer to family — was concise when asked what she thought about the meal.

“It’s wonderful.”


–Mike Munzenrider can be reached at or 651-748-7813. 

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