Valerie Njie (left) poses with a photo of Jesse W. Fife Jr. Photo by Germaine Watkins: MCG Photography.

Bidwell Training Center has spent the last four decades preparing adults throughout the region for careers in high-demand industries. But the North Side-based institution—an affiliate of the Manchester Bidwell Corporation—needs a little help to fulfill its mission.

“There are organizations and individuals who are doing so much to promote Bidwell Training Center’s program, and equip our students and graduates with enough skills to succeed,” says Bidwell’s executive director and senior vice president Valerie Njie.

On November 17,  Bidwell hosts the Fabric of Our Community awards, an annual event recognizing those who made significant contributions to the career training industry. This year’s recipients include Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Home and Garden editor Doug Oster, the Pennsylvania Association of Private School Administrators (PAPSA), and the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Culinary Federation (ACF).

Current president chef Rikk Panzera will accept the award for ACF-Pittsburgh. Former PAPSA executive director Richard Dumaresq and his successor, Aaron Shenck, will accept the award for their organization.

Founded in 1968, Bidwell set out to transition dislocated Southwestern Pennsylvania workers into new careers. Over the decades they changed their programs based on shifting labor demands, going from focusing on trades to tech and medicine. Besides the culinary arts and horticulture technology, they also offer programs for people interested in becoming electronic record medical assistants, pharmacy technicians, and medical claims processors and coders.

All majors are available to qualifying students at no cost.

Fabric of Our Community awards event. Photo by Germaine Watkins: MCG Photography.

Shortly after its creation in 2009, the award was named after Bidwell’s longtime chief operating officer Jesse W. Fife Jr., who helped transform the nonprofit from a civil rights organization to a nationally recognized job training institution. He died in 2010.

“He was definitely a guiding force,” says Njie, who worked with Fife for 30 years.

Past Fabric of Our Community honorees include the John and Cathy Pelusi Family Fund, Pennsylvania Women Work, and representatives from UPMC, among many others.

As for this year’s award winners, Njie credits Oster with being a “guru” to Bidwell’s horticulture program, which has provided instruction in landscaping, turf and gardening management for 13 years.

ACF, a professional organization for chefs and cooks, enables students to learn their way around the kitchen, and around the restaurant and hospitality industry. During enrollment at Bidwell, they gain access to networking opportunities by participating in cooking and baking competitions and attending monthly ACF meetings.

“Oftentimes, our students will go on to work with some of the chefs they were introduced to at these meetings and competitions,” says Njie.

While Oster and ACF work directly with students, PAPSA, an organization that represents more than 320 career colleges and schools before all levels of government, focuses on the legislative side.

“They have been huge in helping Bidwell remain compliant and lobbying for our interests,” says Njie. “They’re doing more and more on a daily basis to make sure that Bidwell shines as a training institution and that our students can get good jobs.”

Having Dumaresq and Shenck accept the award together recognizes Bidwell’s past and future relationship with the organization. After 20 years of service, Dumaresq stepped down from his post two years ago, leaving Shenck to take the reins.

“[Shenck]’s taking us in another direction in terms of organizing the state association and being the spokesperson for us,” says Njie.

The Fabric of Our Community awards ceremony will take place on November 17 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Bidwell Traning Center, 1815 Metropolitan Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15233. The event is open to the public. Tickets are $50.

Amanda Waltz

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated...