News From the Kitchen
We are thrilled to be rolling out an additional eight months of “next level” support and programming for YDP graduates! We sat down with stellar Youth Leadership Program Coordinator Devon Turner to learn about what’s ahead.
Tell us about YLP.
The Youth Leadership Program is an 8-month extension to the training program. It’s all about building upon previous personal successes to cultivate their leadership potential and address issues within their families, communities, and city.
What does that look like day to day?
A lot of this is brand new, so we’ve been building out a structure for the YLP and developing new programming. I’m working with two great interns – Wil Cousin and Raynard Janeau – who came to us through the Kellogg Foundation’s Young Men’s Voices (have) Power initiative. Together, we’ve focused on building an alumni community in general and a strong Youth Leadership Council specifically.
Day to day, we’re creating a community of graduates across time and place. We have six key areas of engagement: leadership and civic engagement, education, career development, advanced hospitality exposure, health and well-being, and social engagement. Every month we want to offer at least one activity in each of those areas and have a monthly check in and goal planning session to which all graduates are invited.
What are some events you’ve had?
Our Youth Leadership Council held its first meeting in March 2016, and programming started in May with a career development workshop. We’ve had additional career development workshops, a demonstration with Chef Renee at Palace Café, another with Chef Chris Okorie, goal planning sessions, give back opportunities, and opportunities for alumni to engage trainees. In April, alumni participated in the Raise the Age campaign, which was part of the juvenile justice reform movement. Youth Leadership Council members also participated in a leadership training offered by Harvard School of Government students and met with Councilmember Latoya Cantrell.
Tell us about the Youth Leadership Council.
The YLC is a group of very dedicated grads who are creating and developing alumni programming, recruiting new participants, and taking on leadership projects. The Council is intended to redefine existing narratives of young people in this city. Narratives about young people who work hard, who have a different vision for what the city can look like, who are tired of crime and miseducation and violence and substandard housing and urban blight – those stories are treated as celebrated exceptions. However, our participants demonstrate that those stories are far from the exception. They can speak very well about what this city could look like. My role is that of a facilitator and advisor.
Let’s talk future. What is the ultimate vision for YLP (one year from now)?
I’d love to see graduates who have really embraced a leadership role in their communities, who are really active in trying to address the social issues that affect them the most. In a beautiful world, they would be addressing those larger issues so they’re not just trying to survive from day to day, but tackling the issues that produce that kind of day to day living.
What does leadership mean to you?
To be a leader is to be someone who understands the day-to-day struggle and can transform that understanding into a call to action. As it pertains to YLP, we’re really helping graduates understand their strengths and their leadership potential, helping them to understand that being a leader is not something that’s dependent upon having “X” amount of dollars in your account or having achieved a certain level of formal education. We all can and should be leaders.
Watch this beautiful video of Nadja, one of our graduates, showing us the role Liberty’s Kitchen has played in her life!
Thanks to Rachael Cerrotti for this powerful piece. We’re proud of Nadja and we hope you’ll consider supporting young people like her through a donation today! Donate here.
It’s 2:30 on a Friday and there’s a slight buzz in the air. Today is a Graduation Day at Liberty’s Kitchen, and everyone’s excited.
Graduation is the culmination of four months of hard work for our youth trainees. After daily instruction and coaching in the five tiers of our program, we celebrate the young people who have made it to the finish line! Today, we celebrate Ronald, Breonne, Leon, and Jeraneisha.
The trainees have been hard at work in the kitchen today creating their graduation meal; as part of the celebration, they get to choose the feast. BBQ chicken and lemonade for Ronald, carrot souffle for Bre, mac and cheese for Lee, and red beans and rice for Neisha. At 4 pm, the party starts. The staff is dressed up, but you can’t beat the graduates for swag. Ron’s in a tan blazer, Jeraneisha, a pink dress and gold hoops. Our latest Orientation class is present, ten strong, young people at the very beginning of their time with LK seeing what it’s like to successfully complete four months of life skills and employability training.
We break bread, and then the ceremony begins, a ritual we all know well. Chef Tasheena is our Mistress of Ceremonies, and roasts the students like no one else can. Ron is our “self-professed star pupil;” Bre, the resident perfectionist.
Neisha’s externship was at a daycare, creating meals for the participants. “I thought those kids were gon’ die,” cracks Chef T, and the room erupts into laughter, Jeraneisha laughing hardest of all.
But for each graduate, the ribbing ends with love. I watch Lee’s face as he listens to the words about him. “Lee, you were our cool guy, slow and steady. We’re proud of you for winning the race today.” He looks bemused, like he’s surprised to hear the room burst into applause.
Staffers line up to offer words of encouragement to the graduates. Everyone’s so proud. Ms. D, our fearless Orientation teacher, says to the graduates, “You matter, and your words matter,” repeating it until I’m sure they won’t forget. The awards are presented: Each graduate receives a knife set and a certificate of completion, poses for a picture. It’s a family affair, and family shows up: Ronald’s baby brother delights the crowd by sitting on his lap during a speech. The graduates speak, sharing words of thanks and reflection about their time in the program.
“I want to thank my classmates who helped me get through the program, I love you,” says Jeraneisha to her cohort.
Around the room, eyes are teary, but it’s congratulations, not goodbye. Now alumni, the cohort is eligible to participate in the Youth Leadership Program, a full eight months of programming and continued support after completion of the Youth Development Program.
Dennis, our Program Director, emphasizes that in a rousing speech. “We’re proud of you, and we love you,” he says to the graduates. “You are always part of the Liberty’s Kitchen family.”
After many more hugs and photos, the graduates finally clear out, the music is bumping, and the staff is cleaning up. I stack a chair and reflect: It’s graduation season across the country, but this ceremony feels more poignant than that of any prestigious university.
As Dennis puts it, “The graduations are never the same, because the young people are never the same.” Five more weeks till the next one, and we can’t wait.
— Posted by Nadia Laher
Spencer graduated from Liberty’s Kitchen about a year and a half ago. He now is successfully employed in the kitchens at American Sector and Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse.
How has Liberty’s Kitchen supported you?
Liberty’s Kitchen helped me find a job – something I like doing. I work with good people and make decent money now.
What were the challenges of being in the program?
I needed to learn my strengths and tackle my weaknesses. I needed to set standards higher than what had been expected of me. Now, I’m not afraid to tackle new things and experience new things.
What do you think is the most important part of the program to share with current students?
The work ethic, skills, and fundamentals are important – and so is having the right mindset.