The path to and through DC Central Kitchen is not the same for everyone. Some people come to volunteer and end up applying to work in our overcrowded kitchen. Others are referred to our Culinary Job Training program by partner agencies helping them overcome past traumas or return to our community after a period of incarceration. In the end, it’s not what brings us to DC Central Kitchen that matters; it’s what we do with the opportunities we find here, and the impact we can have on our shared community if we make the most of them.
Isatu never thought she would end up in the Culinary Job Training program. Like many of our current staff, she learned about DC Central Kitchen as a volunteer who helped us prepare meals for our community. It wasn’t until she lost her job in Virginia that it occurred to her that DCCK might be more than a place to give back. The very same day she lost her job, Isatu submitted her paperwork to apply to the Culinary Job Training program.
“It was literally the last day I could submit my materials,” Isatu recalls. “I filled out everything right away, did all of the testing and interviews, passed my trial and that was it. I got my welcome letter and posted a picture of it on Facebook. I’ll always remember that my anniversary of starting the class was April 2 because of that post.”
Seven years later, Isatu has returned to the DC Central Kitchen family as our first Cafe Manager at DC Central Kitchen Cafe. This exciting new project is bringing a healthy cafe to DC’s Ward 8 while offering a brand-new job training curriculum for young people ages 18-24 who are neither working nor enrolled in school. As Cafe Manager, Isatu’s primary responsibilities will be to operate our fully outfitted fast casual concept and oversee the staff who will work there, many of whom are also graduates of our training program. Like all Cafe staff, Isatu will also serve as a tutor and mentor to the young adults enrolled at that location, coaching them and helping them along the path to graduation.
“For those that really want to do this job, DC Central Kitchen puts you where you need to be,” Isatu says. “They equipped us with the things we need. It really comes down to whether or not you choose to use it.”
Isatu knows something about seizing opportunities. Upon graduating from DC Central Kitchen in 2012, she went on to work in the cafeteria at Gonzaga College High School before accepting management positions at McCormick & Schmick’s and Gordon Biersch, and ultimately, landing her dream job of working on a cruise ship.
For nearly two years before joining our staff, Isatu worked on Norwegian Cruises out of Hawaii, working 16 hours a day, 7 days a week. It was hard work, but she loved it and was incredibly proud to accomplish what she had set out to do.
Today, Isatu knows where her roots are.
“I love what DC Central Kitchen stands for,” she says with a smile. “I always felt like they gave so much to me – and to other people – to have opportunities, all I need to do is seize them.”
As Cafe Manager, not only is Isatu working alongside our staff and students every day, but she is back working in the community that raised her.
“I’m in my neighborhood. These are the kids I see every day and now I get to give back to my community,” she said.