As we look back over the last 30 years and all we have done to make DC a better place to live and work, one thing remains the same: the commitment of our amazing staff members. This month, we’re highlighting three individuals whose legacies we now honor with awards throughout the year.
Among the many graduates that have come through our doors, we have graduated “only one true legend,” says our Chief Development Officer, Alex Moore – and that legend is Ms. Dorothy Bell. This month, we also celebrate her 24th anniversary with DC Central Kitchen, making her the longest-serving employee, surpassing our founder’s tenure.
Ms. Dorothy Bell (affectionately known as Ms. Dot) heard about our Culinary Job Training program in 1995 from one of our partners, Clean & Sober Streets. Her strong work ethic as a student in our training program immediately stood out, and upon graduation, she was hired as one of the first graduates to join our team full-time.
For 15 years, Ms. Dot served as a leader and mentor for those coming through the Culinary Job Training program at our headquarters. At the same time, she kept over a hundred thousand volunteers on their toes, holding everyone to the highest kitchen standards – sitting U.S. Presidents, foreign dignitaries, and DC big wigs included. When we launched our Healthy School Foods program, Ms. Dot’s decade of experience with us made her a top candidate to work in schools, a role she filled for many years before transferring to her current role, preparing meals at our social enterprise hub in Northeast DC, the Nutrition Lab.
Each quarter at a Culinary Job Training graduation, we recognize a DCCK employee who reflects Ms. Dot’s dedication to DC Central Kitchen with the “Dorothy Bell Award”. Established in 2001, this award acknowledges an outstanding employee who exemplifies leadership, as well as the spirit and mission of DC Central Kitchen.
Marianne Ali, our longtime Culinary Job Training Director, once said: “We can always do more than we think we can, if we push ourselves.” For nearly 20 years, Marianne lead our Culinary Job Training program; her leadership contributing to the transformation the lives of over 1,500 men and women with histories of homelessness, incarceration, addiction, and chronic unemployment.
Marianne arrived at DC Central Kitchen in 1997 after overcoming two decades of addiction. A graduate of L’Academie D’Cuisine in Maryland, she had the culinary know-how to join our catering arm, but she was quickly drawn to the tough love and transformations happening in our culinary classroom.
Marianne joined the Culinary Job Training team as an instructor and became the director of the program shortly thereafter. She quickly became DC Central Kitchen’s “North Star,” speaking out on issues of equity and fairness, and standing up for those with the highest barriers. In 2008, she identified returning citizens as the population most in need of our employment services and committed all the resources at her command to “kicking the stigma” of previous incarceration.
In 2014, the White House under President Obama named Marianne a Champion of Change for her work with men and women coming home from prison, and in 2017, DC Council issued a ceremonial proclamation honoring her 2 decades of service at DC Central Kitchen.
In August 2017, Marianne’s fight against cancer came to an end with her passing, leaving behind her legacy of compassion, empowerment, and respect. That same year, we created the “Marianne Ali North Star Award” presented to a graduate of the Culinary Job Training program at Capital Food Fight each year. This award serves not only as a reminder of Marianne’s legacy at DC Central Kitchen, but also our commitment to supporting the growth and professional development of our graduates.
After starting at DCCK as a volunteer in 1998, Ron joined our Culinary Job Training team as a self-empowerment instructor. Our self-empowerment class has always been a cornerstone of the Culinary Job Training program but also one of the toughest components.
It often took students time to adjust to Swanson’s strict rules on attendance and professional behavior, but by the end of the course, his class was consistently identified by students as the most transformative part of their experience. He encouraged students to find personal growth by confronting their past and creating a new narrative for their future. Swanson and the Culinary Job Training team formed group sessions based on the needs of the class, including a women’s group and a group for students returning from incarceration.
After 16 years of service, Ron retired in 2014. We honor his role in DCCK’s history with the “Ron Swanson Life Skills award,” which recognizes a student from each Culinary Job Training class who has made major strides towards personal growth.