Updates for Graduate Success Stories
Each year at the end of summer, DCCK takes a look back at our progress toward our goals to combat hunger and create opportunity in DC. We’re committed to refining how we approach our work to provide healthy food for our low-income neighbors, and offer the skills and training chronically unemployed adults need to get –and keep – a job.
Our work would not be possible without committed investors and supporters like you. We hope you are proud to see what your financial investment in DC Central Kitchen has made possible in the first half of the year. Thank you for supporting our mission and believing in the power of food to change lives.
Every day, we’re preparing more than 11,000 meals for DC schoolchildren and nearby partner nonprofits. Through our Food Recovery and Meal Distribution programs we’re transforming 3,000 pounds of leftover, unwanted food into 5,000 daily meals for our neighbors in need. Our School Food program serves up another 6,000 healthy, locally-sourced, scratch-cooked meals each day for low-income children in 10 DC schools.
From January to June 2015, we have:
- Prepared 914,738 meals for 80 DC social service agencies with 337,721 pounds of recovered food that would have otherwise been wasted.
- Served 516,247 healthy, scratch-cooked meals in 10 low-income DC schools with 146,085 pounds of produce purchased from local family owned farms.
And, like all DC Central Kitchen programs, our school food initiative and meal distribution program offer meaningful employment for graduates of our Culinary Job Training program.
At DC Central Kitchen we know we’ll never end hunger with food alone. That’s why our Culinary Job Training program addresses the root cause of hunger and unemployment: poverty. We operate eight job training classes a year, providing the knife and life skills our students need to launch lasting careers.
From January to June 2015, we have:
- Graduated 48 students from our Culinary Job Training program with an average wage of $11.64 at graduation. The average wage of these students has increased to $12.22 since June 30.
- Maintained full-time, meaningful employment for 60 of our own graduates right here at DC Central Kitchen, at a living wage with full medical benefits and a retirement plan.
Thanks to your support, we’re on track to provide more than 2.5 million meals to our most vulnerable neighbors and train 96 men and women for jobs in 2015.
We are proud to share our achievements from the first half of the year with you, and hope you will invest in DC Central Kitchen’s work again soon.
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.
On Friday, July 10, DC Central Kitchen celebrated its milestone 100th graduation at a ceremony held at the Ronald Reagan Building. Sixteen graduates of the life-changing Culinary Job Training Program were recognized for their perseverance overcoming chronic unemployment to begin new culinary careers.
Mayor Muriel Bowser presented a Mayoral Proclamation to the graduates, in which she stated: “I, the Mayor of the District of Columbia, do hereby recognize the achievements of DC Central Kitchen’s 100th graduating culinary class and call upon all the residents of this great city to join me in commending Class 100 and DC Central Kitchen for their efforts to feed the soul of the District of Columbia.”
DC At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman and Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) presented a ceremonial resolution on behalf of the Council declaring July 10 “DC Central Kitchen Day” in the District of Columbia.
Other notable speakers included DCCK Board Chair Emeritus and Chef/Owner of ThinkFoodGroup José Andrés, television and radio host Tavis Smiley, DCCK Chief Executive Officer Michael F. Curtin, Jr., DCCK Founder Robert Egger, and Vice President, Food & Beverage Culinary and Global Corporate Chef of Marriott International, Brad Nelson.
In its 25 years of operation, the Culinary Job Training Program has produced 1,500 graduates. In 2014, DCCK produced 96 graduates with a 93% job placement rate.
DCCK’s 100th Class was sponsored by the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation, with unique educational experiences provided by Marriott International.
Be sure to visit DCCK’s Flickr page to check out some great photos from Class 100′s journey!
As I walked into the bustling kitchen of Geppetto Catering at 9am on a Friday morning, it was clear the staff had been hard at work for several hours before I arrived. Tartlets were being stuffed with seasoned ground chicken and placed in the oven, completed platters of fruit salad were wrapped and refrigerated for delivery, and the sound of an industrial-style dishwasher buzzed in the background as cooks jostled between the lines of the kitchen galley.
I was there to visit LaShawn Turner, a graduate of DCCK’s Culinary Job Training program who has been happily employed by Geppetto Catering for “eight wonderful years,” as LaShawn herself described it.
LaShawn came to DC Central Kitchen in 2007 after spending several years in various training programs and looking for full-time employment as a single mom. Out of work and trying to care for her then 2 year-old son, LaShawn enrolled in the Culinary Job Training program because she always loved cooking and she heard that the culinary certifications offered through the program, such as the ServSafe food handler certification, would make her a more desirable candidate for future employers.
LaShawn described her experience in the program as “supportive,” but recognized that perhaps the most important part of her training was the self-empowerment classes.
“I was shy,” she said with a smile. “Self-empowerment brought me out of my shell a lot and helped all of us learn how important it was to support each other.”
Thanks to our workforce development team and LaShawn’s own drive to succeed, she secured an interview with Geppetto Catering the day before she was set to graduate from DCCK. She was offered the job on the spot and started work a day later.
Now eight years later, LaShawn swings around the kitchen like she’s a member of the family. And according to Geppetto Catering owner and DCCK supporter Josh Carin, that’s exactly what she is.
“She makes me smile. She makes the people here smile. She has become a true member of the Geppetto family.”
LaShawn explains: “This is what I’ve always wanted to do, and as long as I can stand up straight and come to work every morning, I will. I love my job. Like I tell Josh, I’m going to retire from here!”
It’s clear that for LaShawn, her job at Geppetto is exactly where she wants to be. She is able to be home with her now 9 year-old son on the weekends, and she can’t imagine working any place else.
When I asked her what advice she has for our 100th Culinary Job Training class who will graduate in July, LaShawn paused for a moment and with confidence said: “I would tell them to go for it. Don’t let anybody say you can’t do it because you can. I’m living proof of that.”