Vietnam veteran and current Porchlight resident Wil Ayotte starts the day by prepping fruits and vegetables for chopping. All the ingredients are from Madison-area farmers. After the ingredients are chopped, they will be canned and pickled in 8-, 12-, and 16-ounce jars of sauerkraut, strawberry rhubarb jam, and applesauce. These products, and other items, will then be distributed to local grocery stores and restaurants.
Every Success Comes One Person at a Time
Wil is a current Porchlight Products employee and has become very interested in a career in food preparation, a passion he would not have discovered had he not become a part of the Porchlight Products program. The program employs residents to manufacture high-quality food products using locally grown agricultural produce in Porchlight’s commercial-grade kitchen. Since 2007, Porchlight Products has grown to produce and sell 12 products in various restaurants and grocery stores throughout the Madison area. Porchlight’s various kitchens employ 30–40 individuals with mental or physical disabilities, enabling them to learn important job skills.
Without the program, Wil doesn’t know where he would be. For 12 years in the armed forces, he served as a wheel and track mechanic in the 8th division. Originally from upper Michigan, he returned in 1975 to join the family business of working in the mines. Slowly, his addiction to alcohol took over his life in conjunction with his bipolar disorder and major depression. His alcoholism consumed his life and deeply affected his family, ultimately causing him to be incarcerated for a crime. Wil acknowledges his choices, saying, “I’m responsible for what I did and what I do. That’s it.”
Upon release, he was connected to a VA social worker that helped him move into Porchlight’s Veterans Transitional Housing Program. A goal of the program is gaining employment. So Wil was referred to the Porchlight Products program. Wil says, “I like how it’s not stressful. I like how they pay me and I give them an honest day’s work.” Wil also appreciates the training he received, noting, “Everyone who joins the program gets a food-handling certificate with other options for additional certifications.” This can be a major step toward achieving permanent employment.
Product Sampling Raises Awareness and Grows Distribution in the Marketplace
On any given Saturday afternoon, Porchlight program participants are out in those stores, providing samples for shoppers interested in trying Porchlight Products. Just another way Porchlight Products instills confidence and leadership in the trainees and sells these items into area households for their enjoyment.
With dedicated restaurants, like Daisy Café & Cupcakery, Short Stack Eatery, Brassiere V, and Epic Systems, and grocery stores, such as Metcalfe’s, Hy-Vee, and Willy Street Co-op carrying Porchlight Products, it’s not surprising more space for production is needed.
More Space to Meet the Growing Opportunities
Porchlight is close to completing a $4 million campaign to construct a larger commercial-grade kitchen and 28 affordable housing units on Lien Road in Madison. Wil is enthusiastic about the bigger kitchen. He hopes to help expand Porchlight Products and try out some new recipes. “Everyone should have a chance to do something in this life.” Wil has seized the opportunity provided by Porchlight Products and is currently enrolled in Madison College’s culinary arts program. He prides himself in now being able to appreciate the opportunities Porchlight and the VA have provided and is looking forward to continuing to develop his food preparation skills and giving back to the community.
Article provided by Porchlight, Inc.