Food for their journey
Carl knows his way around lots of professional kitchens, but he found his calling cooking for YouthLink’s Drop-In Center, where he has presided as chef and kitchen manager for 20 years.
In this role, Carl has supervised the creation of tens of thousands of meals for young people experiencing homelessness. “Good food is a great way to break down barriers. Many of the young people who come to YouthLink have been very isolated.
“Just like everyone else, a young person is on a journey. Hot meals at the Drop-In Center aren’t just about meeting a basic need. Meals provide a chance for a young person to see she’s not alone, to hear about other resources we offer, and to make contact with YouthLink case managers. It’s really the first step to her future.”
While food offers a stable foundation to build on education and employment goals, for some, it paves the way to a new career.
Carl employs young people in his kitchen, where he teaches them job skills, responsibility, culinary, and employment skills.
“When you’re in Carl’s kitchen, you work hard and learn all kinds of stuff, like how to be on time, present yourself, and be a reliable worker”, says Shondra*, one of Carl’s kitchen staff.
“It’s consistency that they want—in my kitchen, trust and reliability are the first ingredients,” says Carl.
At YouthLink, we know building relationships based on trust works. Carl’s young employees know he has high expectations, and they work hard to meet them. He smiles, remembering James*, “He was so quick—there wasn’t anything he couldn’t learn. But one day he started acting out, doing things he knew better than doing. So I took him off kitchen duty.
“Holding him accountable changed his attitude. He’d talk to me about taking him back, or offer to volunteer his help when we were short staffed. He would tell the other youth ‘don’t do what I did, that was a mistake.’ So I offered him a second chance. Now he’s back on track, focused, and working on his career.”
For many youth, unreliable access to food is the first, and biggest, barrier they face on their journey to independence. Mike*, one of Carl’s kitchen staff says, “When you see someone come in, and they’re cold and hungry, there’s a lot going on in their head. But once they get some food, real, good food, you see those walls come down.”
“And that’s why they come back meal after meal,” says Carl. “They know they’re connected to something bigger here. I love what I do. Best job I ever had.”
*Names changed to protect privacy