Chelsea's Story: I Wasn't Going to Give Up on Myself
Chelsea (she/her/they) never would have imagined that her favorite childhood cookbook would carry such meaning and significance in her adult life.
“My mom helped make a cookbook for FareStart, and it’s a collection of recipes from Guest Chef Nights and interviews with the chefs. I didn’t know it was a part of FareStart when I was a kid, but I would cook from that cookbook with her. One of my favorite restaurants that's now closed has a recipe in it, so it's something that I made a lot growing up and really loved.”
Chelsea had a challenging childhood but loved and excelled at school. She wanted to be an aerospace engineer and immersed herself in the science of black holes, gravity and space navigation systems. At some point Chelsea realized that this wasn’t the right path for her, though, and pivoted into musical theater which she studied at University of Washington (UW).
While at UW, Chelsea became involved in a relationship with a fellow performer that quickly turned destructive. “It was an okay relationship at the beginning, but quite quickly it turned into domestic violence. There was a lot of isolating behavior and not wanting me to go do things, not wanting me to meet with people or hang out with friends or see family. I felt he wanted me to just stay with him and do what he wanted me to do instead of growing or having other interests outside of him.”
“From there, it escalated into physical violence where he ended up knocking me unconscious twice. There was a time where he was threatening to kill himself. At the time, I thought I would be with him forever, and so I thought I should focus on helping him through those struggles, but it eventually caused me to have some problems of my own and I ended up leaving school.”
While Chelsea escaped from the unhealthy relationship, the scars were deep and profound. She felt isolated and fearful all the time. “When you’re living in fear, you just feel completely unsafe. The people outside, noises going to the grocery store -- it all is terrifying that somebody might hurt you.”
Eventually Chelsea was diagnosed with chronic complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). “I felt something broken in me. I felt that I couldn't go out. I couldn't really have friends or be around friends. I started not to be able to work with people who were domineering or aggressive or violent, and a lot of managers I felt were that way.” The C-PTSD led to a diagnosis of functional movement disorder which caused episodes of intense anxiety, chronic insomnia and involuntary paralysis.
Chelsea applied for a Family Medical Leave and reached out to the American Disabilities Association for help. But then COVID hit, and she found herself without a job. She and her new partner Jesse found themselves falling further and further into debt, fearful that they would lose their home and be forced to live in their car.
Around that time, Chelsea learned about the FareStart Food Pathways Program and submitted an application. “As I was navigating their website, I came across a line that said, ‘If you don't give up on you, we won't give up on you.’ And that to me meant that I could do this because I wasn't going to give up on myself.”
FareStart helped Chelsea navigate DSHS (Dept of Social & Health Services) paperwork and apply for basic food assistance, which kept her family fed and off the streets. She received wraparound case management support to help with her housing, financial and mental health needs, and employment search. But Chelsea was still very nervous. “My classes were all excellent, but inside I was having a lot of fear, a lot of struggles with my confidence.”
Chelsea was not alone. “A lot of our students come in with low confidence and a low belief in themselves,” said FareStart Job Training Program Supervisor Carman (she/her). “But within those first six weeks, what we see is a change. We see how having that support system around them of their cohort members helps to boost their confidence. We see how taking this chance to really look at their values and define them for themselves really boosts their confidence. And the one thing that we can give our students outside of just the services and everything else -- we give our students a chance to really believe in themselves, and that right there is the most important thing that we do."
Chelsea learned that the key to her success was in opening up, accepting help and trusting in people. “The chef trainers were super caring and very compassionate. They gave me a lot of space to come as I was and to bring my problems. But I had to be willing to bring those forward to the chefs to get the coaching and compassion and guidance that I needed to be successful.”
Carman says opening up is a two-way street: “We provide our students somewhere where they can be themselves and they don't have to worry about all the things that happened before they stepped in the door. As long as they come in ready to learn, ready to open up to us, we open up right there with them.”
Chelsea’s trainers encouraged her to break the negative cycle, becoming a positive force for herself and learning to feel safe again. “They would say, don't do anything that makes you uncomfortable, but we also want to challenge you to grow while you're here. That's a lesson that's going to stay with me for a long time.”
With her mom in attendance and her favorite FareStart cookbook by her side, Chelsea recently graduated from FareStart and will continue her training at the Seattle Culinary Academy at Seattle Central College. She hopes to return to FareStart as a chef in our dining space when it re-opens in 2024. Chelsea had this to say at her graduation ceremony:
“Reflecting on my experience, I'm profoundly grateful for the transformation I underwent at FareStart. This exceptional organization did more than teach me culinary arts. It empowered me to reshape my life and to positively impact those around me with the skills I gained. I learned about the power of teamwork and grace in the face of unforeseen hurdles. The kitchen was a road full of trials and of self-doubt, but alongside my peers, I found the courage and resolve within me. FareStart was a launchpad for personal transformation, offering me a second chance and a fresh start. I face my future with confidence knowing that FareStart has instilled in me the resilience needed to conquer any obstacle.”
You can watch Chelsea’s story here.