Haywood Pathways Center’s mission has always been to help people from all walks of life get back on their feet, but now for the first time in the organization’s six-year history, it’s taking a bold step into the world of workforce development that could also help alleviate staffing shortages in the region’s hospitality sector. 

The man they’ve chosen for the job seems to have the right skills, on both sides of the line. 

“I grew up with two brothers, and my parents owned a foster home for at-risk kids. So there were 18 other kids and then my two brothers and myself,” said Neil Ravenna. “At a very young age, we had instilled in us a sense of compassion.” 

Originally from Vermont, Ravenna has been involved in the gastronomic world since his first day in high school; he entered a vocational program helmed by a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, and spent the next four years perfecting his chops. Upon graduation at age 17, Ravenna entered the culinary program at Paul Smith’s College in Saranac Lake, New York. 

“It’s right adjacent to Lake Placid, New York, and the Olympics were there in 1980. I graduated high school in 1981 so then the following spring there was still a buzz in the town,” he said. “We used a lot of the facilities that were built for the Olympics. It was pretty cool being up there.”

By age 19 he was working in restaurants in Burlington and Rutland, Vermont and a decade later found himself employed by a Tampa resort. He ended up in Tuscaloosa in 1996, where he served as the executive chef at the University of Alabama. 

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