They call themselves "The Fabulous Five:" Chatango, Danny, Melissa, Jalissa, and Demetrius, proud graduates of the 65th Culinary Job Training Program class. As a group, they persevered through their own personal life challenges to learn and grow throughout the 11 week course. As one graduate, Jalissa, put it, “I am a great mother. I am not the person I was yesterday. And I have come too far to turn back.” Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s Culinary Job Training Program prepares adults with severe life challenges for careers in food service, taught by professional chefs Khaleel Faheedmud-Deen and Terri Hutter and Social Worker Sharon Mitchell.
Through the class, students learn not only the technical cooking skills they need to work in a commercial kitchen, but also life skills to ready them for steady employment and self-sufficiency. Sharon said, “This class did a lot of inward work – they came in with the intention to do self-work.”
“Each one has grown in their own way, each of them has overcome barriers and kept going.” Chef Khaleel told friends and family gathered at IFFS for the graduation celebration. He also said that they were the highest producing class he has taught in his two years with the Food Shuttle. The lunch that they prepared for their final test – he touched none of it - it was all their work, and it was all delicious.
Just check out the menu below (click to enlarge)
They also believed in each other. As Jalissa said, “I couldn’t do it without my group.”
Danny recalled his own transformation, “When I first came here, I had trouble boiling noodles…. I was a hardhead, but I learned self-control and life skills.”
Demetrius thanked his teachers for his newfound self-awareness. He and Chatango “go way back” and he said that they used to “do things we didn’t need to be doing.” Now, they’ve gone through the class together, helping each other towards a better life.
Chatango, named class valedictorian, received the Paul R. Pope Jr. Award for his excellence. Not only did he shine in the kitchen, he kept his classmates together. AND, he’s the second generation of his family to benefit from the program. His mother is our own Kitty Banks, who graduated from the program fourteen years ago and now runs our Catering Kitchen at InterAct.
“I’ve seen the growth in my mother…where we were at then and where we’re at now….I saw what the program did for her and I wanted that for myself.”
As Chatango said, “Man, I came along way, y’all. My family has come a long way.” He thanked Chef Terri and Sharon for “paving the way” and showing him where he wanted to get to as a young man. “Now, I feel like the sky’s the limit”
The resounding theme was how the five graduates came through this challenge together. Chatango said, “We feed off each other. Y’all are not just my classmates, y’all are my family.”
City Council Member Eugene Weeks attended the ceremony and told the graduates, “You did not give up – that’s what it’s all about,” and commended them for setting an example for others to follow.
A representative from Neighbor to Neighbor, who had interviewed the graduates earlier that day, asked each of them to tell the audience who they were.
Danny added: “I have come a long way from where I started, and it won’t stop here.”
Here’s to the bright future of these five new culinarians! We wish you the best of luck in your new careers and this next chapter of your lives!