For the past couple of years, Matt and I have been partnering with Alliance for Children’s Rights who advocate for our city’s foster youth. We reached out to them to offer mentorship and transitional jobs for youth aging out of the foster care system, but it didn’t go so well. We took on four youth who lived in group homes, had never been employed, who had served time, and who had so much stoic pain in their demeanor that it just really broke my heart in a million pieces. They didn’t want me to walk up and hug them but it was all I could do to contain myself from doing so. I’m not a mother but every blood cell in me felt like one upon meeting these youth walking through our doors for the first time. Life hadn’t given them any breaks and I wanted to change that so bad.
But we’re running a business.
What we didn’t realize then and what we do now is that we needed support to serve these youth. We needed a transitional program with tough compassion to teach these youth kitchen etiquette, job etiquette really, and to put them on a routine where their merits were recognized and applauded, and their mistakes were owned…. and forgiven. With a very busy catering company, we couldnt offer that. We had other employees to respect. We couldn’t be an employer with steadfast rules (be on time, have a yes chef attitude, work clean, promote a positive work environment, etc) and a mentor at the same time. Believe me, we tried. We had our entire staff go through mentorship training actually. We really wanted to make it work.
Our desire to make an impact and change the course of these lives at risk, to change statistics, was just not enough. We needed support…..
And then it came.
LA Kitchen is a non-profit culinary program which originated in Washington DC and had just completed it’s first class here in Los Angeles when we were introduced to it. Not only do they serve foster youth, but they also serve adults who have been incarcerated and are committed to earning an honest life. Students are not a number in this program. Becky and Chef Adam who run it, deeply care about each individual they serve and part of that is helping to coordinate their social services to remain stable, a task that can really be so daunting. Once the five week program is over, students just need an opportunity and with the wrap-around services that LA Kitchen offers, we eagerly opened our doors.
We hired 3 students from Class 2. At first it was an adjustment for them to translate our high octane pace from what they had learned in the program, but in time it worked out and they are all valuable players on our team.
I have learned from this experience that not only does it take a village to raise a child, but it takes a community to support rehabilitation. Providing jobs and job training is only a small part of the solution, but it’s a beginning.
Photos: Jennifer Emerling