At DC Central Kitchen, we’re not just creating jobs. We’re creating opportunities for members of our community who have faced serious challenges themselves to become leaders and champions of change.
That trajectory isn’t always a direct one, and our newest culinary instructor has found a way to turn his challenges into fuel for a career helping others. Ron first learned about the Culinary Job Program from his brother in-law, Marin Ellis, who had graduated from our program and sung its praises. Interested but skeptical, Ron pushed off applying. He was still getting by. But when Ron got into an argument with another coworker and lost his job he ultimately turned to selling drugs to make ends meet. He was caught, charged a fine, and put on probation.
This time, Ron knew he needed to embrace real change. He asked his probation officer if she would be willing to serve as his sponsor to apply to the Culinary Job Training program. She agreed and in March 2016, Ron joined the DC Central Kitchen family as a student.
“To me, I always say this is a second chance program,” Ron reflects. “I believe in second chances because I’ve been given second and third chances. To me, that’s just something that everybody should do – give people a second chance at a career to set goals and get their life straight.”
After graduation, Ron joined DC Central Kitchen as a full-time employee on our Nutrition and Community Education team. He immediately put his culinary talents to work developing signature recipes incorporating fresh produce we offer through our social enterprise, Healthy Corners; and he shared those recipes through cooking demonstrations and nutrition lessons at corner stores and events across the city.
While out at corner stores, Ron quickly found himself talking to customers about DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training program. “When we were doing Healthy Corners events, we had sign-up sheets to learn more about the Kitchen and that was fun – telling people who were interested about the program and how I came through it.”
He enjoyed talking about his experiences so much that when we began nearing the launch of DC Central Kitchen Cafe, our new fast-casual training program for young adults who have become disconnected from work and school, Ron joined a group of staff members who volunteered to help seek out and recruit young people who might benefit from the program. “Why not work hard and try to better yourself?” he asked himself rhetorically.
Inspired by that initial exposure to this new workforce development project based in his home neighborhood of Ward 8, Ron applied to a new position created at DC Central Kitchen Cafe: a full-time role designed for a graduate of our program to apprentice alongside our culinary instructors and work towards becoming a fully-fledged culinary instructor in his own right. He was offered the position of Culinary Arts Instructor Trainee and started just last month as we prepared for our first class of young adult students.
“I’m blown away to be a teacher,” says Ron. “I’ve lived in Ward 8 for 30 years, walking distance from my new job at the Cafe. I wasn’t a great person growing up. I did all the wrong things… but I’m excited about getting into Ward 8 to correct my wrongs and do something good where I grew up.”
Because of his commitment to change, Ron is seizing his potential and giving back to the community that raised him. “I’ve been recruiting students and I’ve put it on my Facebook and social media. People I grew up with, I’m talking with them about enrolling their kids. This is just crazy cool that I get to do this. It’s nothing but a blessing,” he says with pride.