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Meet Joan: From Guyana to DC Central Kitchen

From an early age, DC Central Kitchen culinary graduate Joan learned about the importance of a clean kitchen. Born and raised in Guyana, Joan learned from her mother that people assess whether they can eat at your house by the time they arrive at your front gate. “You must keep things clean all the time so when people arrive, they know your kitchen is clean,” she states proudly. Joan embraced that exacting approach to food, and worked for most of her adult life on an assembly line making pastries before moving to the United States in March of 2015.

She was optimistic about a new life in America, but without formal education or relatable work experience, Joan struggled to find work. Though she had been employed in industrial kitchens before, she was only taught her specific job on the assembly line, so her culinary knowledge was limited. She also did not have the computer skills or food handler’s certification that would help make her a marketable candidate in Washington, DC’s hospitality sector.

As part of her job search, Joan visited a local employment agency. In the waiting room, she met a young woman named Takia who was also looking for work and who told her about her hopes of being accepted into DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training program. Joan followed Takia’s lead and submitted an application herself.

Joan enrolled in the Culinary Job Training program in October 2015. At first, she found the written homework and hands-on computer training intimidating. “Had I known I was coming to America and would have the opportunity to enroll in the program, I would have spent more time learning about computers,” Joan said.

A shared bond with her classmates and a desire to succeed pushed Joan to go the extra mile and work hard. Every day, Joan and her classmates would arrive early, before 8am, to help each other complete the more complex assignments, and eventually, Joan recalls, “they were asking ME for help!”

Soon it was time take their ServSafe food handler’s exam. Joan earned a score of 93 – the highest in her class. But it’s not her high marks, or even being named the “Most Improved” student on graduation day that makes Joan feel proud. When asked, Joan shares that her proudest moment was graduating with her classmates and receiving DC Central Kitchen’s industry-recognized certification, the first official credential she’d ever earned.

Joan graduated in January 2016, alongside her friend Takia, only 10 months after moving to DC from Guyana. She says her time in the Culinary Job Training program made her open to all kinds of change – in the classroom, at work, and in life. “I’m so grateful to the staff and my classmates for sticking with me and pushing me to do more. We did it together,” she says.

Since graduation, Joan has worked for DC Central Kitchen full-time, earning a living wage and comprehensive benefits while preparing healthy meals for DC children. Much like in her pursuit of a culinary education, she won’t let anything get in her way in the workplace. “I never ask what to do. I see things that need to be done and I do them,” she says.