Trust the process. Students in our Culinary Job Training (CJT) program hear this line repeatedly throughout their 14 weeks of training with us. It is a reminder that our process works when you listen, learn and take one step at a time. These days, it isn’t just the students needing to trust the process, but our staff as well.
As we launch into to the planning phases of opening a satellite location at THEARC, our veteran culinary instructor, Chef Tee, has been an integral contributor. Throughout his entire career, Chef Tee has been passionate about working with Opportunity Youth. Even before his work at DC Central Kitchen, Chef Tee has been embodying our mission using food as a tool. With a degree in Secondary Education, and both teaching and restaurant experience, he is well-equipped to guide our students toward stability and self-sufficiency. Of our training process, he says “it’s not about the food part, it’s about the mise-en-place, learning how to organize your thought process.” Once you can master that, you can use it to organize your whole life.
When the project at THEARC was just an idea, Chef Tee was selected for a training program run by the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates called the Youth Workforce Leaders Academy (YWLA). WYLA is a year long program designed to “provide structured, peer learning and professional development opportunities for direct service Youth Workforce Development providers”. Fifteen likeminded individuals currently working with youth came together to learn best practices for supporting Opportunity Youth. Chef Tee jumped at the chance to participate, saying, “Whatever you can envision me being involved in, I want to be involved in”. During monthly sessions, participants discussed successful models, resources, strengths, opportunities for growth and ways for all of the participating organizations to work together and create lasting impact.
The final component of YWLA, a capstone project, was the perfect opportunity for Chef Tee to flesh out our new project at THEARC. His focus was to incorporate best practices learned from YWLA into our CJT program to tailor it to the specific needs of 18-24-year-old learners. In doing so, he recognized a need for DC Central Kitchen to identify the wrap-around services that work best for youth, including modifications to our self-empowerment programming and other support systems.
For Chef Tee, the key piece in this entire project at THEARC is hearing the youth voice. “It’s important to not only have the youth buy-in for the program, but to have their voices in how we set the program up, how we monitor and how we determine success. They have to feel what they are doing is important.” As we continue to develop the programming at THEARC, Chef Tee and his team will interview young people who came through the existing CJT program to hear what worked and areas for growth. But we won’t stop with our alumni. We’re also reaching out to Opportunity Youth in our community who haven’t been previously affiliated with DCCK. As Chef Tee says, “If we build a product that they’re looking for, that they had a hand in designing, hopefully they’ll be more apt to come”.
As our internal planning for this expansion to THEARC has proceeded, Chef Tee has reminded us that we need to trust the process, too. By listening to the needs of the community and working with local partners, we’ll refine a community-driven and led plan to meet needs of our city’s youth.