Nelson—Married couple Sherry and Ryan are living in a mansion and training to be chefs partly due to their participation in a Kootenay Career Development Society’s (KCDS) employment program.

For 15 years the Canadian pair had worked abroad—Sherry taught English, Ryan worked in the oil and gas industry. Their livelihoods took them to Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Panama. It was after their eighth year of living in South America that Sherry realized she no longer wanted to teach. And, as Ryan states, “the oil patch was dead.”

While in Panama, the couple met and befriended the owners of Nelson’s historic Blaylock’s Mansion. Sherry and Ryan were offered the opportunity to caretake the property. Their interest was piqued; however, as they point out, they had “zero experience in the hospitality industry.”

Sherry and Ryan eventually returned to Canada for family reasons and realized it was time to make the move back.

Sherry, who hailed from Ontario, had driven through the Kootenays years before and recalls being drawn to the water, mountains and trees. “I thought: ‘I would love to live here,” she says.

So, in the summer of 2019, she and Ryan made the trek to Nelson and decided to call it home.

While searching online for information about the community, they came across an ad for KCDS’ free five-week RAFT program, which prepares participants to work in retail, accommodation, food service and tourism.

Within two days of arriving in Nelson, the couple started the program.

“The facilitators at KCDS were our first friends here,” notes Ryan, adding that the program helped them process what he calls “reverse culture shock.” The pair had lived and worked in large urban settings for so long that transitioning to small-town life was challenging.

The program also expanded their network.

“Talking to people in the industry, such as Dianna Ducs [from Nelson Kootenay Lake Tourism] helped us realize the job possibilities around here,” states Ryan. “We became more confident that we would could make a living here.”

They learned how to provide exceptional customer service by completing SuperHost. They became certified to serve food and liquor by taking FoodSafe and Serving it Right. The skills and confidence they gained prepared them to shift into a career in hospitality.

They accepted the offer to become the managers of Blaylock Mansion.

The RAFT program also sparked another change for the couple. After their class met with culinary instructors at Selkirk College in Nelson, Sherry and Ryan decided to pursue their love of cooking. They are now enrolled in the culinary diploma program.

Today, they study and work alongside each other. They plan on using their passion and training for the culinary arts at Blaylock’s by offering breakfast to their overnight guests. They may also venture into catering one day.

No doubt about it, this dynamic duo is serving up success.