Updates for 12 Days of Jobs
Billy Johnson is proof of what’s possible at any age. At 58, he’s already experienced a lifetime of tragedy, but that didn’t stop him from seeking something better at DC Central Kitchen.
Growing up, Billy’s mother was a live-in housekeeper who relied on the older siblings to look after Billy and his younger brother and sisters. He played football at Cardozo High School, but even that couldn’t keep him from the temptation of crime. Like too many other young men who struggled to envision a future of success without crime, Billy took to the streets.
He would spend the next 26 years in and out of the prison system on various charges. But once Billy was out of prison for good, things around him just kept falling apart. He lost his mother to a heart attack, an older brother to obesity and poor health, and a sister to breast cancer.
After all of this personal turmoil and loss, Billy enrolled in DCCK’s Culinary Job Training program last winter, ready to make a career for himself and finally start anew. A student with one of our offsite culinary classes at Central Union Mission, Billy was doing well until he lost his last living sibling in February. Without the tools to deal with such a significant loss, Billy allowed his past to take over, relapsed, and left the program.
But Billy didn’t give up. When enrollment opened for our 100th Culinary Job Training class, Billy returned to the Kitchen and asked for another chance to complete the program. As a member of Class 100, Billy was determined to succeed. He worked hard, showed up on time, and was committed to turning his life around.
On July 10, Billy celebrated with his classmates at their graduation ceremony. He had returned to the Kitchen, recommitted himself to working hard, and it paid off. Two weeks later, he joined DC Central Kitchen full-time, making $14.05 an hour as a cook preparing meals for our partner homeless shelters, afterschool programs, and halfway houses.
If you ask Billy about his new job, he’ll tell you that he loves it; that he’s being paid for something he’d just as soon do for free. With his past behind him, Billy is striving to live each day to its fullest, never take anything for granted, and give back.
When you come into a situation when you enjoy doing what you’re doing, the money has nothing to do with it. You always have to keep your past in the front of your mind; you have to have a ‘why’ when you’re going through life, because you can make it.
That’s the beauty of a job – it’s not just about self-sufficiency; it’s about having meaning in your life. After years of adversity and loss, Billy finally has that chance.
We’ve been sharing a lot recently about our 100th graduation and DCCK’s role as job creators in our community. Graduations are inspiring for lots of reasons, not just because of what the day represents for the men and women who complete the program. In the days that followed our 100th graduation, one notably inspiring story made its way around the organization.
Earl was a student of Class 100 who came to DCCK from a halfway house after spending 13 years in prison. You can’t miss him in a room — over 6 feet tall with a big build and a long beard, Earl’s smile is genuine and disarming. After incarceration, he was committed to making a career as a cook, and he approached our Culinary Job Training Program with diligence and enthusiasm. You could find Earl at any event that called for Class 100 student volunteers. In June, he even took to the outdoor grills at the Lamb Jam, a tasting event and competition that brings together talented chefs to compete for the Best Lamb Dish, to help one of the chefs keep up with demand at his tasting booth.
To commemorate our 100th graduation, DCCK was fortunate enough to receive a matching pledge of $10,000 from past and current board members, with a goal of raising another $10,000 in donations both at the ceremony and online in the days that followed.
That afternoon, Earl’s family was seated comfortably in the front row. His mother, easily recognizable given her similarly identifiable smile, was emotional before the ceremony got underway. After the announcement of our board match at the ceremony, several guests handed reply envelopes with their gifts to members of DCCK’s Development team.
A few hours later, our donor relations manager came across one particular envelope that contained a $100 bill and a short, handwritten note. “I’ve been carrying around this lucky $100 for 13 years,” the note said. “I don’t need it anymore.”
The note and generous gift was from Earl’s mother. She held on to that bill the entire time Earl was incarcerated, and on the day of his graduation from DC Central Kitchen, Earl’s mother passed on that luck to the men and women who will come to DCCK after him.
Of all of the gifts we received that day, this is the one that matters most. Earl is now employed full-time, making a living wage of $14.05/hour with full benefits as a cook at DC Central Kitchen. While we’ll never know how much luck that $100 provided, Earl’s hard work and dedication made for plenty of luck on its own. Earl has a job, a family he can spend time with, and a mother whose love for her son is truly unwavering. She retired last week, at a party attended by Earl’s culinary instructors; ending her career the same week Earl launched his.
Thank you to everyone who made a gift in honor of our 100th class. It is a milestone that represents years of hard work and changed lives for over 1,000 men and women who have come through DCCK since 1990.
To Earl’s mother – thank you for believing in your son and for supporting DC Central Kitchen through this heartfelt and generous gift.
You may have been one of the 500 DC Central Kitchen supporters who came out to the Ronald Reagan Building on July 10 to witness our 100th class graduate from the Culinary Job Training Program. These men and women were visibly empowered by their experience to make a change in their lives, but what wasn’t demonstrated on that commemorative day was their success in applying their skills – in the kitchen and in life – to secure employment. As of July 24, more than half of Class 100 had secured jobs, with the remaining in the final stages of their job search – completing interviews and accepting offers.
DC Central Kitchen prepares our students for their future and helps create path of stability. Our dual classroom focus on personal empowerment and culinary skills is further supported by a guided job search process and mock interviews conducted by our workforce development team. Last year at DCCK, we saw 96 students graduate with a 93% job placement rate.
DC Central Kitchen’s most recent Culinary Job Training class marked the end of 14 weeks of training and the beginning of their future at last Friday’s graduation ceremony.
The Walmart-sponsored class was joined by friends, family, DCCK staff and alumni, and esteemed guests at the U.S. Navy Memorial and Heritage Center to commemorate the achievements of Class 99.
Nina Albert, Director, Public Affairs and Government Relations for Walmart gave the keynote address in which she remarked that it’s not just about hard work, but the courage to go after your dreams that makes someone successful in life.
Class 99 had a lot to celebrate. Current employers include Marriott Key Bridge, Nando’s PERi-PERi, Clyde’s Restaurant, Levy Restaurant, and CulinAerie. Students are earning an average hourly wage of $12.00/hour.
During the course of the program students welcomed esteemed guest chefs Vera Oye’ Yaa-Anna (The Palaver Hut) and Rock Harper (Chef and DCCK supporter) and participated in field trips to L’Academie de Cuisine and Jaleo DC.
Internship partner sites for Class 99 included:
Aramark – American University
Marriott Key Bridge
Sodexo at Marymount
Sodexo at Trinity
Sodexo at USCCB
Sodexo at Venable
Water and Wall Restaurant
Thank you to the Walmart Foundation, our many guest chefs, and our internship and restaurant partners for supporting Class 99. Without you, DC Central Kitchen would never be able to continue our work creating opportunity in DC. Thank you!
If you missed this graduation, be sure to mark your calendar and join us to celebrate the achievements of Class 100 on July 10!
For more images from this celebratory event, be sure to visit our Flickr page.
On March 4 Culinary Job Training Class 99 visited longtime DCCK partner, A Wider Circle. The organization located in Silver Spring, MD furnishes the homes of more than 4,000 families a year and provides unlimited professional attire and accessories for those in need. With graduation and upcoming job interviews around the corner, we took the men of Class 99 to A Wider Circle to experience the tangible capstone of becoming a professional – bringing home a suit.
DC Central Kitchen and A Wider Circle have maintained a strong partnership for years. Their professional attire showroom not only includes a personal shopper to help our graduates find the right style for their personality, but the organization has also been relied upon to help our graduates find furniture for their first home. The partnership exemplifies good business for nonprofits. We’re able to focus on skilled culinary training while providing A Wider Circle with clients who are ready to use furnishings and clothing as they become self-sufficient and take on the next chapter of their lives.
DCCK Outreach Specialist Jeff Rustin says: “One thing I love about this partnership is that it really helps our students move in the right direction. They are deserving of this kind of attire and once they put it on, you can see their confidence in their smiles and the way they carry themselves.”
We’re suiting up our graduates in more ways than one. We’re preparing them for their future and a path of stability. Our dual classroom focus on personal empowerment and culinary skills is further supported by a guided job search process and mock interviews conducted by our workforce development team. Last year at DCCK we saw 96 students graduate with a 93% job placement rate. We’re proud of what our students accomplish, and it wouldn’t be possible without the wraparound services and support we receive from partners like A Wider Circle.
Come join us at Class 99′s graduation at 2pm on April 10 at the US Navy Memorial & Heritage Center to see these motivated men and women dressed to impress for their new lives ahead!
A critical new policy brief from the Community Foundation of the National Capital Region (CFNCR), entitled “Charting the Course,” brings new attention to the employment crisis facing individuals in our community without a high school diploma or its equivalent. “More than 60,000 DC residents are essentially locked out of the City’s economy” due to this lack of credentialing, the brief claims, before rightfully calling for strategic investments in a “strong workforce development plan to bring these residents into the District’s economy as full and successful participants.”
At DC Central Kitchen, we couldn’t agree more. In 2014, our Culinary Job Training program began recruiting and accepting more individuals without high school equivalency to better serve this marginalized population. Upon graduation, 83% of these students found a job with a starting wage of $9.84 an hour—not bad, but not as good as DCCK’s typical results. The same percentage of individuals with diplomas found a job upon graduation, but they earned nearly a dollar more an hour, with an average starting wage of $10.62.
But we didn’t stop working with our graduates at graduation. Our students without high school equivalency ultimately achieved a 100% job placement rate, but they and our workforce development staff had to work harder and longer to find employers that would accept them. Critically, over time, the wage gap between those with diplomas and those without them closed. Within a year of graduation, individuals without high school equivalency were earning an average of $10.82 per hour, while those with it were earning $11.08.
Our sample size isn’t huge, and no one program could possibly serve the 60,000 women and men excluded from DC’s economic opportunities. Our results show, however, that there is hope. We join the authors of this valuable policy brief in calling for a smart, strategic, and adequately resourced solution to this crisis. We’re happy to share what we’re learning, and eager to join our nonprofit, public, and private partners in the effort to put our neighbors back to work.