Celebrating a special graduation ceremony

Submitted by Shirley Roy – 

The memory is very clear for Chris, even though a few years have passed. His young son came into his lap, took his face in his hands and said, “You need to stop what you are doing because I need my dad.” At that time in his life, Chris was struggling with an addiction and involved in selling drugs in order to feed it. He had been in jail once and although his son was young at the time, he could sense it was very likely to happen again.

His son’s words caused Chris to make significant changes in his life. He stopped doing drugs and went through a terrible detox without assistance. Once that was over, he applied for social services and then started looking for work.

“I handed out hundreds of resumes but I couldn’t get anyone to give me a call back,” says Chris. “Between my criminal record and the way I look [Chris has several tattoos on his body, including one on his neck], no one would even give me an interview.” Then one day, Chris’s Ontario Works worker mentioned there was a Food Services Training Program at The Ottawa Mission and asked if Chris would be interested in applying. He had always liked to cook but had never worked in a kitchen. But he jumped in and was accepted to the program. The trajectory of Chris’s life has moved forward – and upward – ever since.

Sheila Whyte with Chris, Ben, and Mark. Photo courtesy of The Ottawa Mission. 
Sheila Whyte with Chris, Ben, and Mark.
Photo courtesy of The Ottawa Mission.

The program began in 2004 and has been running for 13 years. During that time, 119 men and women have completed the training and 92% of them have been employed in the food services field. During his five months working in The Ottawa Mission kitchen, Chris learned both the theoretical and practical sides of cooking for large numbers of people, among many other skills. At Chris’s graduation celebration with nine other men and women at The Mission on June 22, he stood and spoke to those attending. He admitted the program was more difficult than he expected– part of that was the effort required to be in the kitchen by 6 a.m.

“I’m very grateful for a second chance,” he said. “I’m grateful for The Mission’s training program, and I’m grateful to my new boss, who is here today to celebrate with me.”

His new boss is Sheila Whyte, owner of Thyme & Again in Wellington Village. Sheila learned of The Ottawa Mission Food Services program in 2008 when she and Chef Ric Watson, Manager of Food Services at The Ottawa Mission, were part a community leadership course. Since then, she has been a big supporter and has in fact hired many men and women who have completed the Mission’s training program to work in her kitchen.

“It has been amazing to watch this program continue to develop and grow over the years,” says Sheila. “What has struck me as the most surprising and outstanding is that the passion and caring is still so present in the curation of the program and leading the charge. When I attend the graduating ceremonies each year what I really love to see is the pride – pride of the chefs who are teaching and sharing, and the pride of the students graduating and the overall integrity of what they are all striving for. These students have overcome challenges and they continue to demonstrate strength of character and the simple want of striving to be better people. Who wouldn’t want that attitude or approach in their business? My experience with the program overall throughout the years is that these students possess incredible determination, perseverance, and the ability to overcome their challenges and fears is ingrained in each student, all great attributes when building a strong kitchen team.”

The next session of The Ottawa Mission’s Food Services Training Program begins July 10 and a new group of men and women will begin the journey towards starting a new career.

Shirley Roy is Manager of Media & Community Relations of The Ottawa Mission.

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