Edwins Leadership and Restaurant Institute sees huge enrollment increase, expands with prison tablets

EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute is 60 percent more students enroll in their program...
EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute is 60 percent more students enroll in their program that provides culinary training for those formerly incarcerated.
Published: Jun. 11, 2021 at 8:19 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 11, 2021 at 10:34 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) -Setting up those formerly incarcerated for success is the mission of Edwin’s Leadership and Restaurant Institute.

They’ve been doing so well spreading their message and reducing recidivism that enrollment in their hospitality program has increased by 60 percent in the midst of a pandemic that crushed that industry.

Even as restaurants were closing left and right, new students at Edwin’s Leadership and Restaurant Institute chose to enter the restaurant industry.

“This will make you stronger. If I can make it through this time, I can make it through any time,” said student Rondale Alexander.

Upon re-entry after incarceration, student Rondale Alexander knew he wanted to better his life and his career path.

“I was a night janitor. I’d go in at night, work by myself, be miserable and lonely. So I figured I need to get something better,” he said.

Alexander was part of a surge in students that founder Brandon Chrostowski said the program experienced when they reopened after spring 2020 shut down.

“Normally, we see 150-160 students in a year. In just five months, we saw about 100,” Chrostowski said.

At the same time that their enrollment went way up, capacity in their classroom, which is also a restaurant, went way down because of COVID restrictions. So they answered the call and opened a second location in Shaker Square, Edwins Too, to make room for more students.

“It wasn’t the best time to open a restaurant. But it was the right time,” said Chrostowski.

Their investment is working. Since the program started, Chrostowski says their alumni has a less than one percent recidivism rate. Nationally it’s about 46 percent, and in Ohio, it’s at around 30 percent.

“What we do is provide a seed of hope that tomorrow can be better. There’s access to a pathway that when you come home, there’s success, and that’s what we’re doing,” Chrostowski said.

Alexander appreciates this new opportunity to explore a dream he’s always had of opening his own restaurant.

“Since I’ve been here and met Brandon, I’ve broadened my thought. So maybe I’ll have to switch it up and do some more thinking,” said Alexander.

Now Edwins is taking its mission a step further.

They’re going back to where the program began, reaching people before they’re released to make sure they don’t return.

“It began in late 2011 early 2012 going into Grafton Correctional Camp,” said Chrostowski.

The institute is now bringing Edwin’s programming into facilities all over the country through uploaded instructional content inmates can access on tablets.

“Now he can reach out and touch so many more people. And we can help so many more get prepared for reentry,” said Deb Alderson, with GTL, a prison communications company.

GTL has put closed-circuit tablets in the hands of inmates at correctional facilities and county jails in nearly every state in the country.

“Come this summer, we’ll reach half a million inmates nationwide. That’s 20 percent of our entire prison population,” said Chrostowski.

GTL provided the tech, and Edwins uploaded lessons and quizzes into the system, so inmates can get a culinary degree while incarcerated.

Chrostowski says a financial commitment from the browns helped them produce the content.

“Before social justice was a thing, the Cleveland Browns have been on this in our town. The Haslams have been very generous. They said take it deeper, build our city up more,” he said.

Alexander says it would have meant the world to him to have had this opportunity before he was released from prison.

“Most of the time, when you’re in there, you are just sitting around, not doing anything. You know what they say; an idle mind is the devil’s playground,” he said.

Alderson says with vocational training like this prior to exit; there’s a 30 percent reduction in recidivism.

“What Edwins and what GTL is committed to is making sure that when you leave that facility, you have the opportunity for that second chance you deserve,” she said.

“It’s not just hope, it’s a way to achieve it,” said Chrostowski.

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