Food as a tool to help people transform their lives
Dominique, 27, glows as she talks about FareStart, a culinary training program based in Seattle.
“I came out of prison wanting to change my life,” Dominique says. “This program gave me hope and belief again.”
FareStart offers culinary training for adults and youth who are in poverty and have barriers to employment — homelessness, a criminal background, substance abuse disorders. Those eligible for the program must commit to being clean and sober.
“We have many folks who have seen a lot in their lives and are looking for a fresh start,” says Michelle McDaniel, FareStart Chief Development Officer.
But it’s more than just job training and placement. FareStart provides support for addiction issues, legal help with financial issues and even housing at a local shelter.
“People can’t be successful in a learning environment if they don’t know where they’re going to put their head down at night or where their next shower is going to be,” McDaniel says. “We use food as a tool for people to transform their lives, but we’re helping holistically. How can we remove barriers from your past so you have a future?”
Dominique has experienced this firsthand.
“They offer so much more,” she says. “We learn life skills. It’s inspirational. It means a lot to me.”
She recites a mantra given in her life skills class at FareStart: “Don’t just talk about it, be about it. Own your greatness.”
Dominique embodies that idea. In addition to participating in FareStart’s program, she works full time as a cook for Emerald City Fish and Chips in Seattle. At the end of her training in December, she’s been promised a management position at the restaurant.
She’ll also complete her time on work release and be reunited with her 3-year-old daughter Aaryn.
Since she went to prison earlier this year, Dominique has been away from her daughter longer than ever before. The experience made her realize she needed to change — and she’s using her work release time to do so.
“I do it for my daughter, to be a better mom,” she says. “I’m a whole new person in a different mindset. I have a new start.”
The culinary training program lasts four months, but the support continues beyond that. FareStart continues to work with post-grad students for another nine months to a year, ensuring they find work and succeed.
“We don’t just say goodbye and good luck,” McDaniel says. “We make sure you continue to develop and hopefully get that first entry-level job in food service. We want to make sure people are moving forward in their lives, staying out of homelessness and moving out of poverty.”
“We get to see people make long-lasting life changes, and that’s extremely satisfying,” McDaniel continues.
Dominique admits that she had to adjust to the support she receives at FareStart — it's not something she had before.
“There are celebrations here all the time,” she says. “We have a great support system. It’s a good feeling. I just want to be better.”
FareStart students begin their culinary training through its community meals kitchen, where students prepare and deliver meals to homeless shelters.
“So they’re giving back and supporting people who could have been them a month before,” McDaniel says.
In addition to its community meals kitchen, FareStart runs multiple cafes, restaurants, fast-casual lunch spots and a catering business.
Students, under the guidance of professional chefs, make all the food for FareStart’s businesses. They also receive “front of the house” training as bartenders, hosts and servers.
“The purpose of the business isn’t to be a source of revenue, but a training opportunity so graduates have had experience in different culinary environments,” McDaniel says.
Together, FareStart’s restaurants and catering comprise 50 percent of its funding. Another 40 percent is from fundraising and grants, such as the Community Partnership Fund supplied by MultiCare.
Each year, 250 people graduate from FareStart programs and 90 percent find jobs after graduation. Students typically have two to three job offers when they graduate. Six months out, 85 percent are still employed.
That includes Scotty Iverson, a FareStart chef instructor.
Once upon a time, Iverson had no job history and no people skills. After getting clean and sober, he wasn’t sure what to do next — until he learned about FareStart.
“When I joined, I was a mess,” he says.
Now Iverson has come full circle working for FareStart, and he loves watching others go through the same process.
“It’s amazing to see the transformation,” he says. “When they graduate, their heads are held high and they have confidence. It’s pretty magical.”
Iverson remembers the instructors who guided him at FareStart saw his potential before he did.
“It gave me self-confidence, knowing that I could, but also that I was worth it,” he says. “That was huge.”
Story by Roxanne Cooke
Photos by Nathan Golden
This story was produced in support of MultiCare’s mission, “partnering for healing and a healthy future.” We support community organizations working on initiatives, programs and projects that improve our community. Some of the nonprofits profiled are recipients of MultiCare’s Community Partnership Fund.