BOSTON (CBS) – Some have been homeless, others have done time and some have struggled with alcohol or drugs. All of them have had trouble getting jobs.

But an innovative program in Boston is changing their lives in the kitchen. It happens in the bustling kitchen school at NE-CAT, the New England Center for Arts and Technology in Boston, a culinary program that trains people who often have no place else to go.

“A lot of our students are chronically unemployed. Some students are getting a second chance at life,” says Jessica Asbun, a chef-instructor at the program.

Often with troubled pasts, the students are part of a free, 16-week program with intensive classroom learning, and hands on experience to prepare them for jobs in Boston’s booming restaurant industry.

“In my life this has made a hundred percent difference, especially being a single father,” says Thornell Williams, one of the students. He and Eritrea Mehary will graduate in just a couple of weeks.

“I can definitely say that everything that I learned in this program was real life, practical, fundamental, useful skills,” Eritrea says.

And it’s a no nonsense program. “If you don’t show up, if you have absences, you will be asked to leave the program. But the students that make it, their lives have changed,” says instructor Jessica Asbun.

“I have choices now, so that’s what it’s given me. Jobs open up for you in this program. A lot of guys who thought they were unemployable, now they’re getting employed,” says Williams.

That’s what happened for Carlos Olmo. He graduated from the program and now works as a line cook for “La Pasta” at Eataly in Boston. “It’s meant a lot to me. It’s a blessing because not a lot of people are fortunate enough to go through the program,” he says.

In fact, about 300 students have gone through the program with a 75% graduation rate. Nearly 80% of those graduates have found jobs.

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