DC Central Kitchen’s Career Pathways Specialist Tiffani Powell knows a great opportunity when she sees one. After all, it’s her job to work with our culinary graduates in the months and years after they complete our program to map out their career goals, improve their credit and financial security, work towards raises and promotions, and enroll in degree programs and employer-sponsored trainings. Her efforts mean that we don’t stop when someone finishes our Culinary Job Training program and initially finds a job. Tiffani wants our graduates to achieve lasting success and sustainability on their own terms.
So when longtime partners at Georgetown University reached out seeking candidates for their inaugural Pivot Cohort, Tiffani recognized it as a perfect opportunity for some of our graduates to achieve their entrepreneurial dreams.
The Georgetown Pivot Program is a rigorous 10-month certificate program in business and entrepreneurship designed specifically for returning citizens; returning citizens are individuals who have been incarcerated or otherwise involved in the justice system and are working to rejoin our community. The Pivot Program was supported by the DC Department of Employment Services and the Federal Department of Commerce.
After learning about the criteria to apply – one must be college ready (i.e. hold a GED or high school diploma), have a criminal record or involvement in the justice system within the last two years, and be a DC resident – Tiffani reached out to Alyssa Lovegrove, Managing Director of Georgetown’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, to get further details about student compensation, class schedule, and the duration of the program. She also utilized our evaluation tools internally to identify candidates who might be interested in the program. In total, four graduates applied, and two – 2018 graduates Sophia McKinney (Class 111) and Ralph Green (Class 112) – were selected via the competitive application process.
As Tiffani describes it, both Sophia and Ralph were completely fired up and independent in tackling their coursework. After some initial guidance from Tiffani, our graduates took ownership of the process and made it clear that “this was their experience to be had.” They made the most of it. On June 14, Ralph stood before a panel of judges, pitched a bold business idea, and took home a $4,000 grand prize to launch a new business rooted in his experiences at Georgetown and DC Central Kitchen.
The path to first place wasn’t easy.
Stepping into a new, rigorous setting can be intimidating, but our graduates cited their experiences at DC Central Kitchen as the critical foundation for this next step in their career journeys. “DC Central Kitchen helped prepare me to learn,” said Ralph. “We couldn’t be late. We were expected to be on time every day at 7 am. And you had to work on your soft skills.”
Because of its focus on helping returning citizens thrive, the Pivot Program reinforced something we echo often in our kitchen: your past doesn’t determine your future, but past challenges can become the fuel for future success. As Ralph said of his Georgetown experience, “one of the best things I learned in this course is that problems aren’t bad things. Problems help direct you to the next step. That changes your perspective on things.”
Fellow DCCK and now Georgetown alumna Sophia agrees. As she told Georgetown, “the Pivot Program has given me education, problem-solving strategies, and networks that I would never have had access to. I always wanted to help and impact my community, and now I have the tools.”
That problem-solving approach resonated with Ralph, who applied it to his internship experience. Like the other Pivot fellows, he went to his internship at Prequel, a restaurant incubator and event space in Washington, DC, twice a week for eight hours a day – constantly learning how to balance work and school while also planning for his future business.
“I realized during my internship that a lot of the staff in the kitchen was wasting time doing non-cooking things,” Ralph recalled. “They hired one company to do the laundry, another to pick-up and dispose of oil, and someone else to clean. That didn’t seem efficient to me once I saw their books.”
This epiphany sent Ralph to the drawing board, and he developed the concept for Bank of House, an integrated solution to the ancillary services restaurants count on. Along with his 14 fellow students, Ralph pitched his idea to a panel of judges just before graduation – and took home the grand prize.
Sophia earned an honorable mention and a start-up funding award of her own. With this additional certification in hand, she has found a business partner with whom she is currently fundraising for a new business idea – pivoting to the next stage in her career.
Tiffani has already heard from our friends at Georgetown who plan to offer another fellowship this fall, and is again seeking our referrals. She has reached out to graduates that qualify for admission and we are thrilled to have partners like Georgetown University and the Department of Employment Services making in this additional opportunity available to our graduates and returning citizens in our community.