Updates for Staff Profiles
Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw was once quoted saying: “The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.” That concept is embodied by one of our staff members and Culinary Job Training (CJT) graduates, Crystal Marshall.
Crystal is living proof that with enough drive and passion, a person can truly turn their life around. After returning home from prison with a felony on her record, Crystal knew she would have to build her life up from scratch. At age 30, she had no prior work experience and nothing to her name except a very supportive family, and more than a little ambition.
After returning home from prison, Crystal began volunteering at a local nonprofit called Friendship Place in order to gain community service hours as terms of her release. It was here that she learned about DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training program. Crystal wanted to live a life of purpose; she wanted to find a way to do something she enjoyed, while also earning a living wage, and she knew this would be a difficult task with a felony on her record. She had never cooked before, but wanted to find a way to gain marketable skills, allowing her to find more than just a job, but a career. So, she set out to pursue her goals – a woman on a mission.
“I didn’t want to just learn how to do something and get a job; I wanted to acquire a skill that I could use to get other jobs. So, I focused on learning, as opposed to just being there. I showed up every morning on time, excited about being there.”
Upon graduating from CJT in January 2013, Crystal began working at Geppetto Catering in Riverdale, Maryland. Six months later, Crystal was hired by DCCK to work in our School Food program for which we serve up 4,300 locally-sourced, scratch-cooked meals to low-income D.C. schoolchildren every day. Only one year after joining the School Food team, Crystal found herself promoted to a supervisor position. She now works in DC Central Kitchen’s Nutrition Lab in Northeast, DC, overseeing her team of 12 staff as they all work together to meet each day’s quota of healthy meals for 10 schools in the District.
Not missing a beat since choosing to change her life’s path, Crystal not only has a job she loves, but has nearly completed a degree in computer science as well. Crystal climbed onto a moving train that’s not stopping anytime soon. She feels she has recreated herself. As this incredible young woman continues to beat the odds, it seems only the sky is the limit for her.
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.
In addition to reaching the $10,000 fundraising mark, the primary goal for the 10 for 10 campaign is for every staff member to make a donation to support their DC Central Kitchen family. Staff who support DC Central Kitchen with a financial donation are making a tremendous statement that says, “I believe in my work.”
Of the 150 employees at DCCK, 60 are graduates who work full-time and earn living wages with quality benefits. Each and every day, we witness the power of food as a tool to change lives and build community. Our work at DC Central Kitchen is more than a job, our employees believe in it.
DCCK Procurement and Sustainability Manager, Amy Bachman says: “I am participating in the 10 for 10 campaign again this year because I believe in the work of DC Central Kitchen. I have seen the successes of our Culinary Job Training program through my colleagues I work with every day. I believe it’s important to support the work of my organization through my personal investment as well as through my training for the race. It’s my way of putting my money where my mouth is when I talk about all the great work the Kitchen does and that I truly see value in the investment.”
Matt Schnarr, expansion and partnerships manager for DCCK’s national sister nonprofit, The Campus Kitchens Project, adds: “It might seem a bit strange to ask employees to give back to the organization where they work, but for me, campaigns like this show the commitment of our staff to the overall mission of the Kitchen. There is something very powerful about coming together as a family to support the heart of the Kitchen – the Culinary Job Training program. For me, it is about more than just raising money. I give because I believe in what we are doing and want to support our work in any way I can.”
So far, our colleagues have raised $6,300, but there’s still time to help! Visit the fundraising page to learn more about how you can contribute!
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.
“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!