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SALT LAKE CITY — Instead of "out of the fire and into the frying pan," Catholic Community Services has opted for "off the streets and into the kitchen" with its St. Vincent's Kitchen Academy program.
St. Vincent's Kitchen Academy is the first program in Utah of its kind, consisting of a 12-week culinary training program designed to provide individuals at risk for homelessness with both culinary and life skills. The program aims to equip its trainees with skills that will allow them to enter the food service industry, obtain long-term employment and maintain housing stability.
Following the 12 weeks of culinary training, the program continues to provide another 11 months of life-skill training and case management. The program also works with local restaurants, placing participants in the kitchens. The length of time was intentional, Chef Alexandria DeAngelo said pointing to the failures of short programs.
Licensed both as a social worker and as a chef, DeAngelo has worked in programs dealing with both youth and adult offenders in jails or prisons. Programs that don't provide additional skills or follow-up can result in recidivism, she said.
"If they haven't changed their thoughts, changed their behaviors, changed the way they're living their life, how is that going to change long term?" DeAngelo asked. "Twelve months is a decent amount of time that change can become permanent and they may not fall back into that homeless cycle."
Prior to entering the program trainees fill out an application and undergo an interview process.
Program participant Ouray Russell, 40, admitted that he didn't have a passion for cooking. His tall culinary chef hat didn't waiver when he laughed and gave a toothy smile, "But I like it and everybody's gotta eat."
Russell describes himself in a lot of different ways — formerly incarcerated, Native American, a boxer and a father. He focuses mostly on his role as a father.
He describes his children as "picky eaters" but admits that he also was particular when it came to food.
Cooking for his children, he said, brings a sense of connection. Russell also teaches his children to cook traditional Native American foods like fry bread, passing down cultural traditions he learned at a young age. It was his children that settled him down, he added.
Russell's father wasn't always present during his childhood, he said. The lack of guidance led him to turn to older brothers and cousins involved in "the street life." He began to struggle with alcohol and at one point was incarcerated.
"I allowed myself to get in trouble through the choices that I made," Russell said. "In life we all have choices but the Lord gave us the option to change or to change things in your head. I had to replay a lot of things, I've seen every little mistake that I made and I didn't like where I was at."
We're placed here to help individuals get out of the situation of homelessness, incarceration, if it's drug addiction, whatever. We want to help people achieve those goals and make changes in their life.
–Randy Chappell, director of basic needs for Catholic Community Services
The St. Vincent's Kitchen Academy program is meant to provide the opportunity for Russell and people like him to move forward.
"That's why we're here, we're placed here to help individuals get out of the situation of homelessness, incarceration, if it's drug addiction, whatever. We want to help people achieve those goals and make changes in their life," added Randy Chappell, director of basic needs for Catholic Community Services.
Program participants will graduate with a food handler's permit, as well as a line cook certification. During their training, participants will receive uniforms, transportation and housing.
"I personally believe it's important to bring dignity to people and the way we do that is by not just offering a meal or a shower but offering skills, training them how to talk other people, helping them be self-sufficient," said Monica Rich, employment and life skills specialist for Catholic Community Services.
St. Vincent's Kitchen Academy will open to new applicants in January 2022.