The juicy, burnished rotisserie chicken cooked on the new Helping Hen food truck has a dual purpose: to satisfy local appetites for classic comfort foods and provide job training to disadvantaged Coloradans. The truck was launched this month by Work Options for Women (WOW), an organization that helps community members overcome barriers to employment, such as incarceration, substance abuse, or mental health issues, through culinary skills training and case management services.
Since 1997, WOW’s four- to six-week training programs have educated 3,200 men and women, helping them find and sustain jobs in the food service industry. Courses in kitchen safety and etiquette, food handling, and the basics of cooking and baking are held at WOW’s Human Services headquarters and a kitchen-equipped mobile classroom that parks at halfway houses and nonprofits like Aurora’s Second Chance Center. With the launch of the Helping Hen, select WOW program graduates now have the opportunity to put their skills to work via a paid internship on the food truck.
“It was a blessing to find a program to help me hone my craft without breaking the bank. I’m no longer a one-trick pony. I have more skills,” says Faith Lippe, one of 14 students currently participating in a WOW culinary program. “I’ve done fast food and stuff before but this is completely different.”
Lippe, who previously worked in the cleaning and packaging industries and lives in Littleton, is considering a career in baking after her internship. She’s loved learning how to make sweets like cupcakes, cookies, scones, and crêpes, as well as culinary tricks behind tasks like hard-boiling the perfect egg, whipping up omelets, and deboning whole chickens. And that’s not all: “They’ve gone above and beyond to put me in contact with housing, get new work clothes, and even bus transportation,” she says.
Kristi Hornick, WOW director of recruitment and community engagement, says one of most vital aspects of the program is ensuring that all participants are job ready, whether that means building confidence through mock interviews or providing resources for acquiring clothing, prescription eyeglasses, or proper identification. “We want to meet them where they’re at and find out what their challenges are,” she says.
The Helping Hen, which has been in development since 2017, is equipped with two rotisseries, allowing interns to cook 24 chickens at a time. “Rotisserie chicken is something hearty that speaks to everybody,” says Tessa Houston, WOW culinary program and special projects manager. “We were looking for something healthy and inexpensive to make sure it’s affordable to the communities we’re serving.”
On the truck, pieces of crispy, golden-skinned chicken are served with sides like homemade mac and cheese, mashed sweet potatoes, tomato herb biscuits, honey cornbread, or coleslaw; you can also get your bird shredded in salads, sandwiches, and wraps. Try the hot chicken salad, topped with Louisiana-style spicy butter on a bed of romaine with smoked ranch dressing. Plates cost $8–12, while whole-chicken meals with sides run $26–$27; all sales go toward WOW programs. The truck’s schedule is still the works, so follow @helpinghentruck on Instagram for updates.