Updates for Graduate Success Stories
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 At five years old, Wood was diagnosed with a learning disability, which she says led her to become shy and withdrawn.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.
“I never thought I would be in this position,” says Tarina Munlyn.
Five years ago, Tarina struggled with addiction and lived in the DC General homeless shelter. Today, she is in a vastly better position.
Tarina, a Culinary Job Training program graduate and a DC Central Kitchen staff member says, “I never thought I’d have a job, and get to give back to the community, and get to work with volunteers from all over the country every day.”
Tarina’s story is just one of many we could share to illustrate the impact our supporters like you make when they give to DC Central Kitchen’s work. It’s the story of one human life transformed through our innovative programs that combat hunger and create opportunity:
Tarina grew up in what she describes as “a drug-infested neighborhood” in Northeast DC. She began using drugs as a young woman, and eventually found herself at rock bottom, homeless, and struggling with her addiction.
After completing a drug rehabilitation program, Tarina met a DC Central Kitchen driver delivering meals to her shelter. The driver told her if she wanted to make a change, she should come to the Kitchen. Tarina enrolled in our Culinary Job Training program, graduated in 2010, and has had a steady living-wage job with full health benefits here at DCCK for four years.
Now, Tarina works in our Main Kitchen leading volunteers in the remarkable daily process of turning 3,000 pounds of recovered food into balanced meals. At the end of the day, Tarina goes home to her own apartment.
Tarina’s story is just one example of what supporters like you can make possible. Envision her story on the annual scale of the 100 men and women we train, the 1.8 million meals we serve, and the 750,000 pounds of food we save from going in the trash and then envision the impact you can make when you invest in DC Central Kitchen.
Your donation to DC Central Kitchen is an investment in our work to combat hunger and create opportunity.
As a DC Central Kitchen supporter, you are part of an incredible process that distributes balanced meals around the city while empowering men and women to overcome obstacles like homelessness, addiction, incarceration, and chronic unemployment in our kitchen.
Thanks for investing in our work this holiday season!
It was another packed house at DC Central Kitchen’s Class 97 graduation ceremony on October 10. Friends, family and esteemed guests joined DCCK staff, CJT graduates, and current CJT students at the commemorative event held at the U.S. Navy Memorial and Heritage Center.
Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie gave the keynote address, during which he spoke about his own story of success and the journey that brought him to public service. Though today the Councilmember is a law school graduate, he faced serious barriers in pursuing higher education. Raised by a working-class family in Northeast DC, Councilmember McDuffie worked as a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service before attending college and becoming the first male in his family ever to graduate from college.
Like many of our students, McDuffie knew he was capable of more, but had to seek the courage to try and maintain the perseverance to meet his own potential.
“Class 97, always remember your struggle, but never jeopardize the investments you’ve made.”
Sixteen out of 20 Class 97 graduates have already secured employment with an average starting wage of $12.07 per hour. Employers include the newly opened Willie’s Brew and Que, owned by former culinary job training instructor Chef Rock Harper, Sodexo food services at Venable and Howard University, Nando’s, CulinAerie, and Burger Works. The remaining graduates will continue to receive employment support from DCCK, including resume preparation, mock interviews, and job placement.
DC Central Kitchen’s graduation is always a high-energy, festive event that marks the end of a rigorous 14-week commitment our students have made not only to their culinary training, but to the self-empowerment and life skills they need to be successful in their lives and careers.
Thank you to everyone who joined us, and for the investments of our friends and champions that help make DCCK’s Culinary Job Training program a reality.
Check out more great photos from Class 97′s graduation ceremony on our Flickr page.
Last Friday marked a DC Central Kitchen milestone: our first Culinary Job Training class from Central Union Mission graduated! Twelve weeks of hard work paid off for the 10 graduates who joined friends, family and DCCK supporters at Central Union Mission to celebrate their achievements and plans for the future.
Class 1 representative Lee Hylton addressed the audience, his fellow graduates, and the men and women of DCCK’s Class 97, who just completed their sixth week of training, and said: “Every day DC Central Kitchen exemplifies that there are still people who want to help others.” He added, “This program worked for me and my classmates, and it will work for you too.”
Lee, who spent 24 months in prison prior to starting the Culinary Job Training Program, secured a job prior to Friday’s graduation and started working this week at Acacia Bistro in the Van Ness neighborhood of Northwest DC. Other employers of the graduating class include Sodexo at Marymount University and Nando’s Peri Peri; and graduates are earning an average hourly wage of $11.62.
A steady job can mean a world of change for men and women overcoming obstacles like incarceration, homelessness and addiction. Our Culinary Job Training program works with students and alumni to help them secure a good job to support themselves and their families.
DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training program would not be possible without the investments of our community partners, including the Capital One Foundation, CityCenterDC, The City Fund, and the Community Foundation of the National Capital Region, among others. The Culinary Job Training program always has more applicants than it can accommodate, and partnerships like these create opportunities for us to provide more students with the critical tools they need to break the cycle of dependency and find jobs.
Thank you to everyone who joined us at this milestone event. We look forward to seeing you at 2pm on October 10th at the U.S. Navy Memorial and Heritage Center where we’ll celebrate DCCK’s 97th class of CJT graduates!
Check out some other great photos from Friday’s event!
Taking a break from his job as a cook at DC Central Kitchen, 54-year-old Marvin Bushrod considers his circumstances. “I have a job, a 401(k) plan, I just got a used car. I’m living the dream,” he says, sounding deeply grateful and a little stunned at his good fortune. “If it weren’t for DC Central Kitchen, I don’t know where I’d be.”
His dream has been a long time coming: On February 15, 1997, Marvin decided it was time to change; it was his 37th birthday, and he was almost halfway through a 30-year prison sentence.
Marvin Bushrod grew up in Washington, DC. He went to Meyer Elementary School, then Lincoln Jr. High in northwest DC. But he had what he describes as a troubled youth, and after seventh grade he left school barely able to read or write. Frank and self-possessed, Marvin offers little elaboration on his early years, except to add bluntly that he was an addict “with no morals, no principles” by the time he was sent to prison in December 1983.
He spent the first half of his sentence getting high and fighting, stuck in the same destructive cycle he’d lived in outside of prison. But on that day in February, he arrived at a decision that he’d been approaching for several years.
I was tired of the lifestyle, going through the negativity. I got to a point where I was just fed up.
He decided to stop getting high and do “only positive things.” He stopped fighting with other inmates, took classes and earned his GED, and spent a lot of time reading. And he got a job in the prison kitchen.
He turned his focus to helping others, counseling inmates to help them deal with the challenges of life in prison and volunteering to talk to school groups. He spent 16 years establishing new patterns of behavior and shifting the direction of his life.
In 2013 he approached the parole board, and was released from prison in Atwater, Calif., where he had served his sentence. On his release, he was given a bus ticket and instructions to report to a halfway house in Washington, DC. Out of prison for the first time in 30 years, he found his way to the bus station and began the journey across the country. Four days later, he was home.
Strange new world
When he got to DC, he found a world that was both familiar and alien. When he left in the early 1980s, the metro system was still new and payphones were ubiquitous. Now Marvin had to learn how to use the unfamiliar public transportation system and the payphones were all gone.
He noticed that electronics like cell phones and computers are everywhere now. Just walking down the street could be a bizarre experience: One day Marvin was on his way from the halfway house to a health center when he noticed a man walking alone, talking loudly to himself. A little farther on, he saw a young woman, also talking loudly, seemingly to no one. “I saw some crazy people out there today,” Marvin told the counselor when he returned to the house. Those folks weren’t crazy he was told; they were talking on their phones—with headsets.
Marvin still has some catching up to do. “I have to learn how to use a computer and I’ve barely figured out how to use my phone.”
While in the halfway house, he enrolled in Project Empowerment, a DC government training program to help former inmates and others facing serious challenges find jobs. It was there that he learned about DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Training Program.
A second chance
In a job market that is already challenging, ex-offenders face serious barriers to getting hired. Surveys show employers are reluctant to hire people with criminal backgrounds. At the same time, the link between unemployment among ex-offenders and recidivism is clear. In DC, nearly half of those released from prison are unemployed, according to the Council for Court Excellence. Without a job and the independence and self-esteem employment provides, their chances of ending up back in prison are a lot higher, and the costs—to themselves, their families, communities, and the city—pile up.
DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Training Program interrupts this negative cycle by offering a second chance to those who really want one. Applicants must meet certain criteria to be enrolled: They must be unemployed or underemployed, yet they need to have stable housing and a high school diploma or GED; they must be drug-free for at least 120 days and have the physical ability and stamina to work in a busy kitchen setting.
And they must have an interest in food service as a career. With significant kitchen experience already under his belt, Marvin applied to the 14-week program, which provides culinary arts training, as well as life skills training, and job placement assistance.
The program’s goal is “to prepare unemployed, underemployed, previously incarcerated, and homeless adults for careers in food service industry.” Students learn how to cook and graduate with a food-hander’s license. They also gain job-search skills—using a computer, writing a resume, conducting an interview—and habits of self-discipline they need to hold onto their jobs and take control of their lives.
The hardest part: self-empowerment
The hardest part of the program was getting past Ron, the self-empowerment instructor. Every morning Ron would poke at me. I was stubborn. But by the fourth week, he got me to see what I needed to do. I hated Ron at first, but now we’re the best of friends.
Marvin says the self-empowerment training is like having a mirror held up to your face, forcing you to recognize your faults and weaknesses and take the steps to address them. Marianne Ali, the director of the Culinary Training Program, says most of the students have struggled with substance abuse, criminal backgrounds, homelessness, and other problems. The self-empowerment component helps them reflect on their past patterns of behavior and figure out what needs to change.
“It establishes a foundation not to go back to past behaviors, and helps them with self-efficacy. Many of them have a deep-rooted belief that they can’t succeed. Our work is about 20 percent culinary training and 80 percent nurturing a belief in themselves and reaffirming their sense of self-worth,” says Marianne.
During his years in prison, Marvin had already done a lot of work toward establishing new patterns. “It was clear as day that he was ready to do whatever was necessary,” says Marianne. Still, he lost focus at one point, and missed a couple days of training. When that happened, Marianne sat down and talked with him. When he was young and selling drugs on the street, did he ever take a day off, she asked? No, he hadn’t. She told him, that’s because nothing stopped, and he had to be out there every day. “You know you have the capability,” she said. “Now you have to apply that same energy and ingenuity to a legal profession.”
“That was a real eye-opener,” said Marvin. “I never missed another day.”
The Ron Swanson Award
When the training program came to a close, the students voted for their classmates to receive special awards—Most Valued Player Award, Most Improved Award, and Sunshine Award.
The recipient of one more award, the Ron Swanson Life Skills Award, goes to a student who has embraced the process of self-empowerment and taken the steps necessary to build a new life. Ron nominated Marvin to receive this award, and the program’s team agreed. Marvin says, “He could see I wanted to punch him sometimes, but I controlled myself. That’s why he selected me—because I showed self-control.”
But Marianne says Marvin’s determination to succeed was evident when he arrived at DC Central Kitchen. “Maybe it was easier for Marvin because he came with that motivation,” says Marianne.
“An amazing place”
The Culinary Training Program has helped around 90 percent of its graduates find jobs. In 2013, 86 percent of the program’s graduates kept their jobs for at least six months. Furthermore, the jobs they got offered an average starting wage of almost $10.50 per hour, more than $2 above the District’s minimum wage.
Marvin was hired by DC Central Kitchen to work as a cook. He is responsible for salads, but he says everyone helps out in all parts of the kitchen. It’s like working in the prison kitchen, in that both are big institutions preparing meals for thousands of people every day. But unlike prison, he says, at DC Central Kitchen the food is prepared with love.
If it weren’t for DC Central Kitchen, where would I be? Who would give a guy with my background, 54 years old, a job? There are people out there who have been looking for years for work, people with no criminal background, who can’t find a job.
He wonders where he and others would be without the Culinary Training Program, how many people would be back in jail or on drugs. In his class, 67 percent of the graduates were previously incarcerated. But they turned their lives around, and DC Central Kitchen gave them a second chance. The program follows up on graduates in the year following graduation, and offers services to help with housing, employment, or other issues.
“We definitely wouldn’t be as successful as we are. It’s like a godsend, the program saves so many lives.”
He hopes he’ll stay at DC Central Kitchen, maybe becoming production manager at some point.
“At DCCK you get to meet a lot of people. You meet volunteers from all over, they tell you their stories and you tell yours, and nobody judges. It’s amazing. It’s an amazing place.”
This story was written by Kristin Witting, a volunteer for DCCK.
Click here learn more about DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training Program.
Class 95′s Maya Moore first heard about DC Central Kitchen while she was incarcerated. She had just been released and was in a drug rehabilitation program when she met DCCK staffer Sarah Riley, who helped her apply to the Culinary Job Training Program. Unemployed since 2007 and having applied to hundreds of jobs with no luck, Maya came to us with the most important asset of any new culinary trainee: a commitment to changing her life.
Maya is now fully employed at Nando’s Peri Peri doing the kind of work she loves. She took full advantage of the program’s month-long internship and hadn’t even graduated yet when they decided to offer her a permanent position. She loves working at Nando’s, an established employment partner of DCCK that’s offered supportive, constructive internship environments to several DCCK students already this year.
It’s amazing and I’m very thankful. I’m optimistic about my future. I’m going to keep on succeeding.
Maya says she owes much of her success to the employment skills she learned in the program. In addition to obtaining their food handler’s licenses, the students participate in mock interviews that help boost their job search skills.
I had the best interview of my life because of what I learned in the program.
Maya said the most difficult component of the class was our unique and often difficult self-empowerment curriculum. Each day, our students step away from practicing their knife skills, and work on developing life skills instead. She says these challenging sessions forced her to look at herself honestly. She has one piece of advice for future students entering the program.
Follow the rules and do what you have to do. Everyone here is here to help. You can’t do anything but win by completing this program.
Maya’s plans for the future include attending culinary school and, one day, moving up to become a head chef. Once frustrated and dejected after a long and fruitless job search, Maya’s forged a new way forward by joining her own inner strength with DCCK’s rigorous curriculum and established network of supportive employers like Nando’s Peri Peri. We’re honored to call her one of our 1,300 culinary alumni.