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Graduate profile: Aliyah

Aliyah graduated from DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training program three years ago, when she was just 19 years old. That made Aliyah one of our youngest graduates ever, but she had already overcome some incredible challenges before she walked in our door. She was hired by the Marriott Marquis, one day before her graduation, with no previous job experience but according to Marriott Executive Chef Matthew Morrison, “with a great attitude and willingness to learn.”

A pathway to opportunity

Aliyah developed a love of cooking by the age of 12. When she was 17, she dreamed of cooking professionally but didn’t think she would be taken seriously. “I always had a passion for cooking and wanted to go to culinary school,” she says.

Her circumstances meant that private culinary school wasn’t an option for Aliyah, however. She fell on hard times as a young adult and wasn’t sure when, if ever, she would be able to pursue her passion. “My life was in completely shattered pieces,” she recalls.

While DC Central Kitchen typically recruits new students by conducting information sessions at dozens of DC-area nonprofits, our alumni network also plays an important role. One day, Aliyah overhead a graduate of the Culinary Job Training program talking about what he had learned at DC Central Kitchen and how he had earned his ServSafe food handler’s license through the program. Aliyah approached him, struck up a conversation, and found out how to apply to the program herself. Realizing she’d found a pathway into the culinary field, Aliyah thought to herself, “this is it!”

Growing with DC Central Kitchen

Upon enrolling in the Culinary Job Training program, Aliyah discovered that she would be learning about much more than knife cuts and food safety. The program includes a rigorous self-empowerment curriculum, and she was challenged to open up about personal goals and struggles in of a room full of older, more experienced classmates. “I had so much to say but I did not have a voice,” she says.

Aliyah says that these self-empowerment classes helped her to express herself and bolstered her self-confidence. Looking back, she attests that “DC Central Kitchen helped me grow in many emotional aspects of my life, not just financial.”

Youngest employee at the Marriott Marquis

When Aliyah was hired at the Marriott Marquis, she was the youngest to work in the hotel. Despite her lack of experience, Chef Morrison was willing to give her a chance: Aliyah may have needed some time to acclimate herself to the pace, “but she had the right attitude. Now she’s doing great and is still working here very happily. It’s going very well,” he says.

Chef Morrison and the Marriott Marquis have hired four DC Central Kitchen graduates over the years. “I absolutely support DC Central Kitchen,” he says. “I know that it’s a great program and people deserve a chance, so I’m definitely willing to help out whatever I can.”

Marriott’s support of DC Central Kitchen stretches back more than two decades, starting as a donor of surplus food for DC Central Kitchen’s meals, and then becoming a leading investor in the Culinary Job Training program. Each year, a lucky class of DC Central Kitchen students has the privilege of touring Marriott International’s headquarters and meeting with Mr. Bill Marriott.

Plans for the future

Today, Aliyah is 22 years old and still in the early stages of her career. But she has big plans. “I’m fortunate; not a lot of people have the opportunity to start their career at the Marriott,” she states. She loves her job and wants to grow within the Marriott Corporation. With the same confidence, Aliyah adds that one day she wants to open her very own restaurant.

“If anybody told me that I’d be working at Marriot Marquis as my first job, that I’d have my own apartment and be so much better than where I was three years ago, I would not have believed them,” she explains. “I honestly can say that I wouldn’t have gone this far without DC Central Kitchen.”