VISTA — From rock bottom to a career in the kitchen is the goal.
And for more than 300 people over the past four years, San Diego-based nonprofit Kitchens for Good has been the opportunity to restart. The organization is now moving its culinary-based program into the Luna Café at the Moonlight Amphitheatre to serve their food to attendees enjoying the show.
Aviva Paley, co-founder of Kitchens for Good, said the program was born out of a need to lift up people who’ve served prison time, been homeless or have exited the foster care system, for example, developing culinary skills that can translate into full-time careers.
“We provide a culinary internship program for men and women with significant barriers to employment,” she said. “We equip them with the knife skills and life skills, as we like to call it, to really get and keep a job in the culinary and hospitality industry.”
Last year, Kitchens for Good and Moonlight teamed for a pilot program. Now, the program has expanded to a three-month training program beginning March 2 with the graduates then serving their food to patrons of the amphitheater.
The program has an 86% graduation rate, Paley said, adding Kitchens for Good has helped 330 people over the past four years. Each year the program accepts about 130 students.
Becky Arrollado, 49, is just one of the success stories. She spent decades abusing drugs and going in and out of prison before linking up with Kitchens for Good several years ago. The program, she said, gave her hope and turned her life around.
Now clean, Arrollado manages the Imperial Beach location of Guahan Grill after starting as a dishwasher. The program gave her skills in the kitchen and in life, something Arrollado said she never had.
Those skills included communication, interviewing, resume building, problem-solving plus all the tools learned in the kitchen.
“It’s a 12-week program where our students are taking life skills classes … and putting those skills into practice by working in the kitchen,” Paley said.
Arrollado said the program is tough and the staff will call out bad behavior in an instant. The discipline, she added, is another tool she learned from the program and has instilled into her work ethic.
However, the stigma of an ex-con still rested over her as she prepared to graduate and go into the workforce for her first-ever job. Arrollado said she was honest during her interview, noting she’s an ex-felon and spent most of her life addicted to drugs and racking up arrests with stints in jail and prison.
The restaurant took a chance and it paid off, she said, noting she has been promoted five times and now runs the restaurant.
However, her goal is to land a job with Kitchens for Good and help those who were once in her position.
“People need to be more open with us and understand we are trying to change our lives,” Arrollado said of erasing stigmas, while adding the journey is a mental one. “The hopelessness goes away, pay attention and run with it. The tough love changes our demeanor.”