Youthentity Career Academy program participant Madison Thompson preps food in the kitchen of Allegria, an Italian restaurant in Carbondale, as Charlie Candela, a program alumnus, watches.

Carbondale nonprofit Youthentity launched a new program, Career Academy, at the beginning of the school year, and Roaring Fork Valley businesses are already reaping the benefits, according to a news release.

“We’ve been impressed by the kids’ commitment to learning employability skills and their excitement around getting a head start in their careers. We’re also so grateful to our Career Academy instructors, many of whom donate their time to Youthentity to teach kids about their field of work,” said Meghan Grabow, director of brand and enterprise development for Youthentity.

Students in grades four through 12 participate in Youthentity programs in career development and financial literacy. Its executive director, Kirsten McDaniel, said the nonprofit served more than 3,000 youths last year.

The new Career Academy relies on the direct, hands-on involvement of local companies and business owners to bring career exploration programs to students throughout the Roaring Fork Valley. The businesses help to train youths in their own industries, and, in return, gain knowledgeable, skilled employees, the release states.

Career Academy currently offers two tracks: Structure Design and the Building Industry, and Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management. McDaniel said she hopes to eventually expand the careers explored in Youthentity programs.

“Health care is likely the next industry we’ll offer to students. It’s quite a lift, but we’ll get there,” she said in a prepared statement. 

One local business, Allegria restaurant in Carbondale, said participation in Youthentity’s programs is paying off. Andreas Fischbacher, chef and owner, employs several Youthentity alumni and current program participants.

Fischbacher became involved with Youthentity after his daughter indicated an interest in baking and culinary arts. When she enrolled in Youthentity’s baking program, “I became curious, and as a parent, wanted to support the program,” he said.

The Youthentity model was familiar from the apprenticeship programs of his home country: He got his start, as a teenager in Austria, by participating in a culinary program similar to Youthentity’s culinary arts class. 

“I recognized Youthentity’s program as a valuable exploratory experience for kids, and a way to give them some direction at an age when many don’t know what they want to do,” he said in the release.

Fischbacher emphasized the fact-finding and exploratory aspects of Youthentity programs. “This is an excellent way for kids to find out whether the hospitality industry is the place for them,” he said. “If it’s not, that’s a good thing to know, and there’s an option to move on to join Youthentity’s architecture or construction programs. The main thing is to learn what they enjoy and what interests them as a career. And it’s a free opportunity,” he added. 

Fischbacher has hosted students in Allegria’s kitchen for the past seven years, providing a working kitchen and dining environment in which the youths can practice their skills prepping, cooking and plating food for a full dining room. The students also become involved in regional and state culinary competitions. 

Madison Thompson, a Career Academy participant, is a senior at Roaring Fork High School. She plans to continue her education in pastry arts after high school and is considering culinary schools on the Front Range for her studies.

Also, Charlie Candela participated in the program as a sophomore. Now a senior at Roaring Fork High School, he plans to pursue a career in human resources in the hospitality industry after an introduction to the business side of the field as part of Youthentity’s ProStart curriculum.

“From working on a hospitality-focused business plan during the class, I learned about the business side, which was most interesting to me and led me to human resources management,” Candela said in the release.

Youthentity was founded in 2001 as Computers For Kids and launched its first experiential learning program in 2006 with a workshop called “Build Your Own Computer,” in which students taught peers to build a desktop computer. Over the past 13 years the organization evolved to offer various skill-building and career-exploration programs in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“Career exploration should start early, with an emphasis on learning skills that will transfer to any job: teamwork, leadership, timeliness, presentation, communication and so much more,” McDaniel explained. “Whether kids participate in our culinary arts and hospitality program, or our construction and architecture class, the end result is the same — confident, capable kids who are ready to lead.”

Other local employers such as Gallegos Corp., Aspen Skiing Co. and Gould Construction also work closely with Youthentity to help support the organization’s career readiness programs with the knowledge that while helping local kids to explore industries that are prevalent in the Roaring Fork Valley, the program also aims to train the next generation of workers, the release says. For more information about Youthentity’s career development programs, visit the website, call (970) 963-4055 or email program director Peter Barclay at