Updates for Achievements
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.
Ever since I came to DC Central Kitchen I’ve considered myself blessed by the opportunities I’ve been given and the life I’ve been able to make for myself as a graduate of the Culinary Job Training program. I enrolled in the program in January of 2011, graduated in April, and launched my first real career by joining DCCK’s Healthy School Food program. I’ve recently worked my way up to become a culinary instructor in the very same program that changed my life four years ago. I didn’t think things could get better, but on Friday, January 16, they did.
One of our board members, Lisa McGovern, is married to Rep. Jim McGovern, who represents the 2nd congressional district of Massachusetts. As an elected official, the congressman attends each State of the Union and is given one additional ticket to use as he chooses. This year, the congressman and his wife offered the ticket to DC Central Kitchen! I was honored to represent my colleagues at what was, quite simply, one of the best nights of my life.
I spent Tuesday as I would any other work day – in the kitchen teaching the 25 students currently enrolled in the Culinary Job Training program how to fabricate chicken. I wasn’t planning to leave early until one of my colleagues suggested I take a little extra time to go home and change.
By 5 p.m., my heart was pounding. The congressman invited me to meet him at his office in the Cannon House Office Building so we could walk to the Capitol together. When I arrived, I was greeted by the congressman himself, who immediately embraced me and thanked me for joining him. At this point, I was nearly dizzy from excitement.
The congressman then informed me that we were about to have dinner in Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office where I would go on to meet Congresswoman Pelosi, Rep. Joe Kennedy, and an added bonus – Chef Tom Colicchio! As soon as I explained that I worked at DC Central Kitchen, several people in the room stopped to tell me what great work we’re doing in our community. I was bursting with pride for my colleagues and proud to represent all of us on this special night.
Approximately two hours before the president was due to give his State of the Union address, Congressman McGovern and I made our way to the House Chamber where he helped me find my seat for the big event. I spent the next two hours on the edge of my seat, my ears and my mind buzzing. I saw the speaker’s desk and imagined the speaker and vice president arriving. I watched the arrivals of the Supreme Court Justices, The First Lady, the Joint Chiefs of Staff – you name it!
Time flew by, and the next thing I knew, the president was introduced. My skin became numb and I could feel my cheeks begin to ache from smiling so much. All of our leaders were there together in one room, and I had a front row seat to see democracy in action.
My experience on January 20 was nothing short of spectacular. It was an honor to be in the company of our elected representatives and to represent DC Central Kitchen that evening.
To Congressman and Mrs. McGovern – thank you! I’ll never forget the night I watched the State of the Union from the House Chamber of the United States Capitol. More importantly, I’ll never forget my civic responsibility to be an active participant in our democracy. As I told my culinary students the next day, change is possible, but only if we’re willing to put in the work.
On Friday, January 10, DC Central Kitchen celebrated with the graduates of culinary job training Class 98 at the US Navy Memorial and Heritage Center. We were honored to welcome Carla Hall as the special guest keynote speaker, who spoke about her perspective on what it means to experience life’s highs and lows, and how one must always look for the upside of feeling down and out.
Seventeen men and women commemorated the end of their rigorous 14 weeks of culinary training at a packed house that included esteemed chef and restaurateur José Andrés, as well as friends, family, and DCCK staff.
Class 98 also marked the sixth consecutive year of the J. Williard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation’s generous support of the culinary training program. Kathleen Wellington, director of culinary sustainability at Marriott International, shared her experience in the culinary field and stressed the importance of being flexible as your career path changes. The requirements of a job in the hospitality sector can change suddenly, and embracing those changes is a vital key to professional success.
Graduate Kevin Smith was elected Class Representative and used his speech to reflect on the growth Class 98 experienced during their time together. Smith reminded the audience that regardless of where you come from, what your background is, or the color of your skin, everyone experiences challenges in life. It’s a certainty that unites us all, he said, but it doesn’t have to define us.
Employers of the graduating class include Ingleside Rock Creek, Giant Foods, Harris Teeter, and Vision of Victor with an average wage of $11.10/hour.
Thank you to all of our generous sponsors who help make the culinary job training program and the success of our graduates possible! If you didn’t make it to this graduation, be sure to mark your calendars for Class 99’s graduation ceremony on Friday, April 10th!
If you didn’t make it to the Capital Food Fight™ last Tuesday, or happen to read the article in The Washington Post last Wednesday, then you probably haven’t heard that DCCK has made our first foray into the supermarket food manufacturing space! That’s right, our Chow-Chow, a sweet, pickled relish made from a combination of vegetables and served cold, is now available on Whole Foods Market olive bars and packaged in ‘to go’ containers at the Tenleytown, Georgetown, Foggy Bottom, and P Street locations.
Like all of our social enterprise activities, DCCK will produce and distribute the Chow-Chow out of our Nutrition Lab kitchen facility located in Northeast DC, and each batch will be prepared by graduates of our Culinary Job Training program.
Chow-Chow can be eaten by itself or as a savory condiment on fish, poultry, crackers, and a variety of other foods. Head over to your local Whole Foods and try it for yourself – 100% percent of proceeds support DCCK!
At DC Central Kitchen, we teach our students that every job is a good job. An entry-level gig as a prep cook or dishwasher might not make you rich, but if you keep showing up each day with the right attitude and amount of effort, you can go places. 2013 DCCK culinary graduate Abby Wood took this teaching to heart, and it landed her a very special job—in the kitchen of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, a building that houses various agencies that comprise the Executive Office of the President.
Soft-spoken, with soft features and short stature, Wood didn’t exude confidence in her early days at DCCK. At five years old, Wood was diagnosed with a learning disability, which she says led her to become shy and withdrawn. Time and again, she was told “You’re just not going to make it.”
At the behest of a loving aunt, Wood ventured down to DCCK, looking to turn a personal passion into a professional career. The busy kitchen, with clattering steel and chatty chefs, was intimidating at first, but instead of hearing from those around her that she wasn’t going to make it, her instructors repeatedly urged her to “trust the process.”
In the program’s first seven weeks, Wood was inundated with information, from exacting knife cuts to conversion measures to safe methods of handling food. With the help of her instructors, Wood made lengthy to-do lists. She started using her phone to help manage her time in ways that kept her from being distracted. She also learned how meticulous note-taking could help her learn better. And when DCCK’s hard-nosed self-empowerment classes or rigorous, month-long internship experience pushed her to the limits of her social comfort zone, Woods says her instructors “learned how to read me” and coaxed her out of her shell when she wanted to withdraw.
Upon graduation, Wood landed an enjoyable position at the Library of Congress, where she honed her skills in a diverse workplace. But Wood, so outwardly shy, had a bigger dream that she only whispered to her closest confidants at DCCK.
She had a dream of working in the White House. And through her first job, she developed a network, dutifully watched for openings, and trusted the process of achieving her dreams. The vetting process was long and frustrating, and she could have easily gotten distracted or dejected. But she didn’t.
It’s been nearly six months since Abby landed her job in the kitchen of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and we’re proud to report that she is still there – happy, fulfilled, and working full-time in her dream job.
DC Central Kitchen taught me hyper-focus and a dedication to detail and learning new things, all skills that are beneficial in any environment, especially a challenging workplace like the White House.
“Don’t let other people deter you from your goals,” Wood adds with a bright smile.
Yesterday, DC Central Kitchen staff, graduates, and friends grew a little bit closer to each other as we shared in the delight of seeing our very own CJT graduate Howard Thomas on ABC’s hit cooking-themed daytime talk show, “The Chew.”
The show dedicated a significant amount of air time to portraying the work of the Kitchen and our graduates. Howard, who is currently the lead production cook at Washington Jesuit Academy for our Healthy School Food program, did such an incredible job representing the Kitchen and sharing his story in front of a live studio audience!
Thank you Carla Hall, Mario Batali, Michael Symon, Clinton Kelly, Daphne Oz and the entire crew of “The Chew” for highlighting our work and our mission to use food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities.
Check out a short clip of yesterday’s episode here!