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EDWINS provides free child care to students and alumni of culinary training program

Three-story house with large front windows, second floor porch and an enclosed front yard.
Mandy Kraynak
The Land
The EDWINS Family Center at 13017 Larchmere Blvd. opened in late May. It provides free child care to students and alumni of the EDWINS culinary training program.

Based in the Buckeye-Shaker neighborhood, EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute offers a six-month culinary arts training program for people returning from prison and jail. Students can even start their training while incarcerated by taking a video course on tablets. The program, which has over 500 graduates and a 95% employment rate, has opened doors for formerly incarcerated people, who often face barriers to employment.

But the program has not been an option for people who have children to take care of, said Brandon Chrostowski, founder, president, and CEO of EDWINS. Throughout the program’s 16 years of operation, about 80% of EDWINS students with children have not completed the program, often due to lack of child care.

Chrostowski remembers a time when a father in the EDWINS program had to leave to take care of his kid during the day and ended up not returning to the program. “It would have been nice at that moment if I had a child care center to say, ‘No problem. Let’s get (the child) up here. Come back to work; come back to school. Let’s get through it,” Chrostowski said. “I didn’t have that option. I wanted to have that option.”

In late May, Chrostowski opened the EDWINS Family Center at 13017 Larchmere Blvd. to provide free child care to EDWINS students and alumni. The center is in Shaker Heights near the Cleveland border. It’s part of a growing EDWINS “campus,” which includes training centers, a bakery, butcher shop, and two restaurants: EDWINS Restaurant and edwins too. The campus also has apartments and family housing, in addition to amenities like a fitness center, basketball court, small farm, and park. Chrostowski is now closing a deal for 16 additional units of family housing at 2950 S. Moreland Blvd.

“Here in that housing, you have access to everything,” Chrostowski said of the existing family housing and apartments.

EDWINS founder, president, and CEO Brandon Chrostowski stands on a porch wearing his white chef's coat.
Mandy Kraynak
The Land
EDWINS founder, president, and CEO Brandon Chrostowski opened the EDWINS Family Center after raising funds to make renovations and navigating requirements from both Shaker Heights and the city of Cleveland.

People based outside the area can access opportunities at EDWINS too, though. Chrostowski said the Cleveland Browns will pay for people to travel to Cleveland for the six-month training program. EDWINS also teaches at the Cuyahoga County juvenile detention center on Quincy Ave. and the Grafton Correctional Institution, a men’s state prison in Lorain County. With its tablet course, EDWINS has the capacity to reach 300,000 to 400,000 incarcerated people nationwide, Chrostowski said, and the course has about 80,000 active users on its tablets.

A play kitchen sits in a corner. Stuffed animals are on a wooden shelf. Books are on a display shelf along the wall. A small child's table with two children's chairs are against a wall painted with wild animals. A colorful rug of a tree, sun and animals is on the floor in the center of the room.
Mandy Kraynak
The Land
The EDWINS Family Center is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday to fit EDWINS students’ schedules.

Now, Chrostowski is working on reframing the EDWINS program as a possibility for people with children. The team is doing outreach at shelters and prisons and spreading the word to the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority and the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

From the outside, EDWINS Family Center looks like a home, with potted flowers hanging from a fence enclosing the front yard area. Inside, a mural of jungle animals and children’s artwork decorate the walls. The space has multiple play areas stocked with a variety of toys and activities, including stuffed animals, books, and a play kitchen.

Chrostowski purchased the building from his graphic designer, who used to have an office space there. The team raised over $400,000 from both individuals and foundations to buy and renovate the space, he said. The building is near the Shaker Heights-Cleveland border, and navigating the requirements of the two municipalities was a challenge, he said.

A children's gate blocks off a room with large windows, toys and a carpet with large shapes.
Mandy Kraynak
The Land
In the two months it's been open, the family center has served about 8-10 children.

Antwaun Teasley, who graduated from EDWINS’ training program in 2016, was the contractor for the renovations to the family center. He works for EDWINS as a culinary arts instructor at the juvenile detention center and sends his daughter, who turns four this month, to the center from 11 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m.

His daughter also goes to another day care, but it’s closed during the summer. “The family center came right on time,” he said.

Teasley said he encourages others to participate in the EDWINS culinary training program all the time.

“You can’t miss. They give you free clothes; they give you free everything. You eat, you work, you get paid, and you get free day care — beautiful,” Teasley said.

Having free child care available at the family center will allow more people to participate in the EDWINS program and land jobs in the culinary arts field, he said.

A play kitchen sits beside an enclosed play area with toys. Farther in the room, there's a crib, rocking chair and changing table.
Mandy Kraynak
The Land
One of several play areas at the EDWINS Family Center on Cleveland's East Side.

“Now, there’s no excuses. Come get your education. Come grow. Come learn, and have some fun. And you can involve your children at the same time,” he said.

The family center has served 8-10 children so far and currently has four children who regularly come to the center. Plus, some graduates are looking to send their children there in the future, said Donita Hawthorne, the center’s director. It’s licensed to care for up to 22 children.

“It’s picking up slowly but surely. But I’m just glad that we’re here so when the need arises … we’ll always be here,” Hawthorne said.

Three employees currently work at the center, and Chrostowski is also licensed to help out if needed. The number of workers required depends on how many kids are at the center on a given day and their ages, he said.

The center provides child care to EDWINS students and alumni free of cost, and it’s open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday to accommodate kitchen work schedules.

“It means that everyone can hope and dream,” Chrostowski said. “Regardless of your past, you can hope and dream. Regardless of your circumstance, you can hope and dream.”

EDWINS gives parents the tools to make that possible, helping bring dreams within reach.

“It completes that circle of hope and possibility to achieve it,” he said.