Duxbury resident Maarten Hemsley is putting his business experience to the test as he works to help prepare unemployed and underemployed Boston residents for the workforce.
Hemsley, of Washington Street, is the founder of the New England Center for Arts and Technology (NECAT), an educational non-profit that serves “resource-limited” adults in Boston. A semi-retired financial executive, he first had the idea to start the NECAT program about five years ago, after speaking at a memorial service for a close friend. Also speaking at the service was Bill Strickland, founder of the Manchester Bidwell Corporation, an educational program that provides training for at-risk youth and adults with limited re- sources.
After speaking with Strickland, Hemsley was inspired to start a similar program in Boston, one that would provide job training and life skills classes for adults who have difficulty securing and holding a job.
“Our programs are mostly targeted to people who do not have college degrees but do have their GEDs and have struggled in the job force,” Hemsley said.
Hemsley started looking for a location for the non-profit in 2012, a search that proved difficult, as he aimed for a site that would house what he called a “world class learning environment.” Eventually Hemsley secured a site near the Mass Ave. Connector in Boston. His five-year quest to develop a strong program culminated in the opening of the facility in October 2013, with 18 culinary students.
“Because we were just getting off the ground, we decided to just take the first 20 or so people who expressed an interest in the program” he said. “Going forward, we anticipate building up the classes and having wait lists for up coming classes."
The current course offered at NECAT is a 22-week comprehensive culinary class that utilizes both in-class instruction and hands-on experience to prepare students for real-world employment. After the 22-week course ends, students participate in a six-week internship with an employer who could potentially hire them full-time afterwards. Most recently, students participated in the Boston Food Show, where they got not only a first-hand look at the industry but were able to network with professionals.
“Our goal is to give students a well-rounded education,” Hemsley said. “Many of these students are in need of a lot of life skills training, such as how to hold a job once they acquire it.”
The first class completed their coursework about 10 days ago.
Getting traction in the non-profit world was difficult for NECAT at first, Hemsley said, mainly due to the high non-profit per capita ratio in Boston. Once word got out about the program, Hemsley said the community was fully supportive.
“It’s a challenge to commit to this program, as many of our students need to work a second job during training,” he said. “But we have had a great response from the community and have developed relationships with many local businesses, who have shown us a lot of support so far.”
Students may participate in the program free of charge and Hemsley said the program aims for an 80 percent placement rate for students with employers after graduation from the diploma pro- gram.
A Duxbury resident for over 20 years, Hemsley said he hopes to one day expand the program to have a stronger Duxbury connection. Looking back on the past five years developing the non-profit organization, he said he is grateful he has received so much support.
“It’s very exciting,” he said. “I’m very fortunate to have had immense support from the community that has helped this program come to fruition.”