Vets2Success Program to Educate and Empower Veterans for Reintegration Into Communities Through Food and Drink
Oct 11, 2017 12:09PM
After three years of serving local veterans through his Vet2Chef program, founder and president Bryan Jacobs has decided to create Vets2Success, an organization with the sole mission of educating and empowering veterans for reintegration into communities through food and brew programs. Jacobs founded the original Vet2Chef in 2014 after the passing of his younger brother, Kevin, to veteran suicide.
"The program started with six veterans as we partnered with goodwill veteran services for our main support to the veterans," Jacobs explained. "I have been in food since I can remember I started cooking very young, but just thought of it as a way of life, not a career."
His grandfather was a chef, and at an early age and early mornings of hot cocoa and Corn Flakes, the young Jacobs found himself developing menus and planning evening dinners.
"At 8 [years old], I’m not sure most kids planned on making roast beef," he said. "My whole life has been wrapped around food and I have been blessed in my career to have had the opportunity to cook with some of the best and cook for some of the elite."
Jacobs is a graduate of the University of South Florida Sarasota Manatee, class of 2015, with a Bachelor's of Science. From there, he traveled to France for a double Master in Culinary Innovation, Leadership and Management. For many years, he has been a private Chef and says he has enjoyed the experience immensely.
This has opened the opportunity for him to organize and run the nonprofit that has become his life's work, and has led to a sponsorship by the University South Florida Sarasota Manatee. The organization uses the university's Culinary Innovation Lab for its teaching space.
"They have been a great support to the project," he said. "Our other supporters are Goodwill Veterans Services of Sarasota. They have been instrumental in the support to our project. They provide funding for the veterans that come through Vet2Chef."
Vet2Chef's fourth class graduated in September, and a new class started at the end of the month. Typically, seven to 10 veterans come through each class. Jacobs said, however, not everyone is ready for change.
"This opportunity must be taken very serious[ly] by the veterans, as most don’t have jobs or are in day-labor positions, which we can only imagine in the Florida sun how fun that is," he said. "During this program, the veterans get more than just cooking knowledge, they get a chance to reimagine themselves; to find a light at the end of the tunnel.
"Most veterans that are going through a rough transition do not understand what life is, nor do they know whom they are. Every veteran who used to be someone in the military is no longer that same person and an identity crisis is almost evident. We help them find themselves over this process with the recipe of life."
Jacobs said every class and each individual has shown him the power of life-changing moments. His prerogative is to show each individual that there is still a chance to live, and that they are not alone on the journey.
The biggest lesson he teaches, he said, is the first one: you can either change your life for the better or for the worst.
"Losing my brother to suicide has changed my life dearly," he said. "The struggle of not knowing why or how I have made it through what I have and he couldn’t is something I deal with every day. I make sure the veterans understand that they can to move forward with this mindset."
Jacobs hopes to open this opportunity across the country. He plans on introducing other programs, such as Vet2Coffee, Vet2Brew, Vet2Agro and Vet2Baker, to name a few. He also hopes to focus on providing veterans a stepping stone into entrepreneurship, through his sustainable gastropub, where patrons can see where food comes from as well as the hands behind its creation.
"It actually will create a relationship between the guest and producer, as each of these veterans' stories can be viewed and followed, and you can actually see where your money goes," he said.
With that being said, the biggest struggle for this monumental group of endeavors is funding. Vets2Success and Jacobs is looking for funding, as well as investors into the main business concept.
"Currently we are unfunded and are in dire need of funding in order to support the program," he explained. "Unfortunately, we need to be able to pay people for their time and ability to train people. This is the biggest obstacle we are facing as the financial situation can really help grow this program."
The first major round of support can help the group become sustainable. For more information on giving and getting involved, visit Vets2Success.org.