Charles' Story: Don’t Stop, Keep Going

June 21, 2023

Charles’ (he/him) aunt had been encouraging him to come to Seattle and apply to FareStart for years, but it wasn’t until he passed out from heat stroke on a job in Dallas and spent a month in the hospital that he realized he needed to make a change. He took his last $500, bought a ticket to Seattle and applied to one of FareStart’s culinary job training programs in 2019.

Charles grew up in a family of great cooks, but FareStart was “ground zero” for him in terms of learning the business side of running a kitchen. He didn’t know what a ladle was, had never owned a kitchen thermometer and didn’t know anything about weighing serving sizes or temping dishes. But even more importantly, he had never been held accountable.

Charles recalls the moment when he truly realized that people were counting on him: “I remember I went through a spurt where I was late a couple of times and Chef pulled me into the office and said ‘You’re doing great work. But I’m depending on you to be here on time. I can’t treat you like a baby.’”

That experience had a profound effect on Charles: “I already knew it, but that just taught me that I have to be more aware of what I’m doing, and I have to be more self-disciplined. It also taught me that there’s people out there that genuinely care about you.”

Charles came to realize that he was an important part of something, and that he had the personal agency to make it a success. “It helped me understand that this was much deeper than me and much bigger than me. I think the program was set up for everybody to grow together. Some took advantage and some didn’t. It was really personal for me. I was in a space in my life where I knew I had to grow. So everything that we were taught, regardless of if it was culinary or life-related, I wanted to learn it.”

Charles graduated from FareStart in the fall of 2019 and immediately landed a dream job working for Cornish College’s catering business. He loved the work, but then COVID hit and he was out of a job. Charles spent a couple of months feeling bad about his situation, but instead of giving up on his dreams, he pivoted and took a different tack. He moved back home to Tulsa, Oklahoma and started his own catering business.

“Perseverance was one of the words that they taught us at FareStart,” Charles remembers. “For me, perseverance is not where you’re at, but where you’re going. And how important it is to keep fighting through whatever you’re going through. I went through a whole heartbreaking breakup when I was laid off during COVID, but I had to put that aside to understand where I was trying to go in my career and in my life.”

That perseverance has paid off for Charles. His catering business -- Mind, Body, Soul Food -- is flourishing, with four to six catering jobs a week serving as many as 300 people at a time. He’s got two full-time employees and is catering for large organizations like Tulsa Public Schools and the Muskogee Creek Nation. And in a moment of absolute full circle, Charles recently catered for the Tulsa District Attorney’s Office – the same office that tried him for a felony back in 2009. “That was such a relieving feeling,” said Charles. “People make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean that that’s how they’re going to be forever. I’m just blessed that I was given the opportunity to change and make an impact, a positive impact on the world.”

Charles is committed to paying his good fortune forward: “To me, success isn't how many bookings you can get. It's not how much money you can make. To me, success is helping the next person. If I can help one person get to the next level, if I can help one person get past depression, if I can help one person overcome a situation, to me that's more success than any success in this world.”

Charles and his catering company feed people experiencing homelessness and donate their time at Salvation Army, and Charles seizes any opportunity he can to share his story with younger generations: “I come from a place where there’s not a lot of opportunity. I've been through a lot. I've been addicted to drugs. I have six children. There have been times when I've thought that I was better off dead than alive. So I share these stories with them. I just tell them that I believe that everyone's going to face a difficult time in their life. You can either take that difficult time and use it as a crutch to get to the next level, or you can take it and use it as a burden to feel sorry for yourself. I don't recommend feeling sorry for yourself cause there’s only one thing that’s gonna happen -- you're gonna fail. You only fail when you stop trying. That's the only way you fail. So I try to leave them with that. Don't stop, keep going.”