Updates for Graduate Success Stories
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.”
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.
My name is Vikas, and I’m the CEO of a group of companies based in Manchester, United Kingdom. I spend about one third of all my time on philanthropic projects. I had read a lot over the years about DC Central Kitchen, and during a recent visit to an international trade summit in Washington, D.C. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to pay them a visit.
A wonderfully warm greeting was my first experience of DC Central Kitchen (DCCK), and within minutes of arriving and I was engrossed in conversation with a smartly dressed and confident woman, Tarina (pictured above), in a DC Central Kitchen uniform telling me about how wonderful this organization was. It was just half an hour later that this woman would tell me her story, describing how she was an ex-convict, spent part of her life homeless, and never thought she would ever get away from her drug and alcohol addictions. My host (Andy, the organization’s COO) also told me that when he first met this lady she was introverted, isolated and broken. Just one year later, here she was – one of the warmest, happiest and most confident people you could wish to meet, a transformation she attributes to DC Central Kitchen.
In 25 years, DCCK has grown from being an idea to becoming an organization with an annual budget of $13 million and more than 150 employees. The numbers are staggering: DC Central Kitchen prepares and distributes close to 1 million meals a year for local nonprofits, including homeless shelters, rehabilitation clinics, and afterschool programs. Aside from the (obvious) nutritional impact, their meal distribution program also saves their nonprofit partners close to $3.7 million in food costs.
Given that close to 100% of their Culinary Job Training program cohort arrived facing severe life challenges – the majority having periods of incarceration, drug or alcohol abuse issues, and chronic unemployment – it’s incredible that in 2014, the program’s graduates had a 93% job placement rate (one graduate is even a cook at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building for the White House).
“We want to be a model for businesses,” Andy said to me. “We’re a living wage employer, and we want to show people that you can run a business, change lives, and make a profit in the process…”
Similarly unusual in the sector is the distance they manage to keep between the hard-reality of running a non-profit, and the soul needed to bind together souls.
A tour of the kitchen was the next wonderful part of my journey, meeting dozens of graduates of DCCK’s program whose lives had been transformed with a mix of empowerment classes, structured (paid) work opportunities, and the chance to build a new family within DCCK’s walls. The atmosphere is light, fun, and much like a ‘start-up,’ but behind this exterior is a very serious social enterprise, one that operates with the efficiency of a for-profit entity while supporting DCCK’s training program.
That’s all before we even look at their national sister organization, The Campus Kitchens Project (replicating DCCK’s core activities at college and high schools throughout the US).
By this point, I was hugely inspired by DCCK when I met Jeff Rustin. Jeff has been with the organization for just over four years and runs their daily empowerment program (and much, much, more). He is exactly the mentor that every young person in the USA should have, and told me stories of many of the people they’ve helped, including one harrowing account of a woman who was beaten to within an inch of her life by her partner, and had put her four young kids to bed in their car for their own safety, on one of the coldest days of the year. When Jeff reached them, the children were practically frost-bitten and he took them to hospital, along with their mother, and started working with them. Only a short time later, the family is doing well, has a home of their own, and two of the kids are even in college. They’re so grateful, that Jeff gets a Father’s Day card from them. This is just one of thousands of stories DCCK sees.
One of the most powerful things DC Central Kitchen has is its authenticity. This is not a charity that just means well, but one that is made up of people that have been through, experienced, and overcome the challenges that their beneficiaries face in their daily lives. Jeff recounted the story of speaking to a group of young men, who had histories of incarceration, and who were struggling to connect to him and his other speaker.
“I still know my number!” he told them (speaking of the unique number each inmate gets when they go to prison). “….I asked these young guys, who has a number lower than mine? Come on! Stand up! Nobody did…” Having spent many of his formative years in jail (before most of his audience were even born), he has turned his life around in the most profound way possible and now helps thousands of people to do the same. “People need to have faith, I’m not talking about God, but they need faith in something, and most of all, themselves….”
Poverty is endemic in the developed world. Whether you go to Europe, the USA or elsewhere – behind the wonderful shiny exterior of business hotels, conferences, and tradeshows is the reality of cities where, as in the case of most American cities, one in four people are excluded from the economy. Organizations like DC Central Kitchen give the support people need to thrive, and also- frankly- to survive, and that’s good for everyone.
During my time with DCCK, I asked a number of people I met what it was that kept them so close to the organization. Unanimously, the answer I got from every single person was single, “family.”
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.
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!