It’s not uncommon to hear DC Central Kitchen staff and students talk about being a family. If you’ve volunteered or visited the Kitchen before, you have probably seen our motto painted on the kitchen walls, “As you would cook for your own family!” But it’s not every day that we see a father and son both graduate and create new career paths together.
The story of Sheldon Dean Sr. sounds like many we’ve heard here at DC Central Kitchen. After a period of incarceration that distanced him physically and emotionally from his children, Sheldon Sr. enrolled in our Culinary Job Training program in 2015, graduated, and embarked on a new career. His transformation inspired the youngest of his seven children, Sheldon Dean Jr.
Despite their physical separation, Sheldon Jr. had worked to maintain a very close relationship with his father. The younger Sheldon was determined to graduate high school, but made some poor choices and ended up at DC Central Kitchen to serve mandatory community service hours for school. He got back on track and earned his diploma this summer, but knew he needed to pursue a career that would help him avoid making the same mistakes as his father. At age 18, Sheldon decided to apply to the Culinary Job Training program.
“Coming to this program, I wanted to know how to cook but I realized early on that it was more than just cooking,” says Sheldon Jr.
Although he was the youngest one in his class, Sheldon knew that he had to demonstrate maturity and learn to work with older students who had very different life experiences. Every Tuesday, Sheldon and the other men in his class would meet for Men’s Group. This small, intense weekly group discussion was one of the most rewarding parts of Sheldon’s time as a student. He recalls learning from the other men in his class, their mistakes, and how to prevent them. He had gained a whole new family, encouraging each other to grow and succeed.
Sheldon graduated from DC Central Kitchen this past August, where he received the Life Skills Award for his ability to open up, learn about himself, and show vulnerability around his classmates. Sheldon was joined on stage that day by his father, Sheldon Dean, Sr., who held back tears watching his son complete the very same program that changed his life just two years ago.
After graduation, Sheldon Jr. was hired right here at DC Central Kitchen where he is a member of our Healthy School Food team, earning a living wage and comprehensive benefits while preparing healthy meals for DC children. When asked how he felt in that moment, Sheldon said, “You’re never too young to do anything.”
As a DC Central Kitchen graduate, Sheldon is now paving the way for other young adults to get the training they need to start culinary careers and help break the intergenerational cycle of hunger and poverty in his community.