You are here
Home > Community > Michael Shaffer learns recipe for success as ACD participant

Michael Shaffer learns recipe for success as ACD participant

Advanced Career Development participant Michael Shaffer takes a pan full of freshly baked, hot rolls to the buffet counter at the Immokalee Senior Center Feb. 2. (Beverly Bidney photo)

IMMOKALEE — The routine of the kitchen at the Immokalee Senior Center suits Advanced Career Development participant Michael Shaffer well.

After earning an Associate of Arts degree in hospitality from Keiser University last year, Shaffer worked in the kitchen of Sweet Tomatoes in Naples and Fort Myers. The restaurants each served between 700 and 1,200 diners daily, a far cry from the average of 16 served in the Senior Center.

“It’s slow and relaxed,” said Shaffer, 24. “I like the laid back scene here more. I’m not running all over the place like a chicken with its head cut off.”

Shaffer began in the ACD program in early December and has thrived on the job. He helps wherever he’s needed, has improved his skills and learned a host of trade secrets and tips. During a recent lunch that included chili and baked potatoes, he learned to brush the tops of the potatoes with olive oil and add a sprinkle of kosher salt.

“It crisps the skin, just like in a restaurant,” he said. “There’s also a lot of science in the kitchen; the yeast in bread is a living organism. You have to let it rest before you shape it.”

Shaffer has also learned to be open-minded when cooking since there are dozens of ways to do the same task. Shaffer has become a valued member of the team as someone his co-workers appreciate and rely on.

“Michael is a very good worker and it’s a great help having him,” said Immokalee Elder Services site manager Demi Garza. “He does what he’s told with no questions asked. He’s learning and he’s on his feet all day. He really is a part of the team.”

Health and fitness wellness program chef Lorraine Posada teaches Schaffer as they cook together.

“I took him under my wing,” said Posada, who has an Associate of Science degree in baking and pastry from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. “We like Michael; he’s one of us now. And he rocks that hairnet.”

It was a long road for Shaffer to get where he is today. Some youthful indiscretions left him with a criminal record, but he doesn’t let that hold him back or become discouraged.

“I was a follower at the time,” he said. “That led me to places I’d rather not go again.”

These days, with a wife and three children, Shaffer is acutely aware of his responsibilities as a husband and father. He lives with his wife Michaela and their children Nancy, 4, Natalie, 2, and Nickolai, 8 months, in Ave Maria, where he enjoys the community’s family-friendly lifestyle.

When he was a college student, Shaffer worked in the Work Experience Program under the supervision of education assistant director Alphonza Green.

“Mr. Green pushed me to go into ACD after college,” Shaffer said. “He said it would be more beneficial than just going right into a job.”

The ACD program, which has been part of the Human Resources Department for about a year, is designed to give Tribal citizens an opportunity to earn a living in line with their education. Participants work in Tribal departments suited to their education and interests.

“The participants make meaningful contributions to the departments,” said Katonya BienAime, HR assistant director. “That is key and the departments are welcoming the help.”

The two-year program is for individuals who plan to have a full-time career. Like anyone working outside of the Tribe, ACD participants will learn to balance work and home life.

A college degree – associate or higher – is required for the program. ACD currently has four participants and can accommodate one more. The number is kept low to ensure individualized attention is given to each person. By the end of the program, the goal is for the participants to become a permanent member of the department.

“Michael is on the right track and we want to make sure we are there to help him,” BienAime said.

In the kitchen on a recent morning, Shaffer is the one helping out. After preparing his mise en place – a French culinary term for a work station with everything in its place – Shaffer was ready to help prepare a lunch featuring baked chicken, yellow rice, soup and broccoli. The camaraderie was apparent as the staff talked about home recipes, garlic, family life and other topics as they worked.

“He’s a fast learner and he likes to jump in and help us do whatever we need,” said assistant cook Angel Cardenas as she made a pot of sweet potato soup.

Shaffer has overcome the challenges he faced earlier in his life and is happy to be working in a field he enjoys and an environment he values.

“There are no arguments. We help each other out and look after each other to make sure everything runs smoothly,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like work.”

The path provided by ACD has been a smooth one.

“ACD helps us get on our feet, learn more and get a lot of experience,” Shaffer said. “Our clients here are awesome and there is never a dull moment.”

Anyone interested in joining the ACD program should contact the Human Resources Department.

Michael Shaffer stirs a pot of chili as mentor and colleague Lorraine Posado looks on in the kitchen of the Immokalee senior center. (Beverly Bidney photo)
Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at