"My parents brought me here for more opportunities."
Ian, a Youth Culinary graduate, talked about his experience going through the program and how the experience has changed how he looks at his future.
He first heard about the program from his school and although he was a little hesitant, he needed to do something, his mother had given him an ultimatum and he was on the verge of getting kicked out of his house.
“This program helped me stay in school,” Ian said. “I needed something to help me hold myself accountable. It’s a big deal at my school to learn self-reliance and self-accountability. You have to be able to do for yourself in this world. I’d also help my mom out in the kitchen and cook so it was something I had a little experience in.”
The Youth Culinary Program, a partnership between FareStart, Seattle Public School’s Interagency Academy and Nova High School, is a job training program where participants learn foodservice skills while also earning school credit which counts towards their graduation.
Ian oscillates between huge grins and seriousness as he talks about what he has learned about himself through the program.
“My parents brought me here for more opportunities,” he said. “In Puerto Rico, there wasn’t access to job programs, or any chances to make money, or even have access to music programs. Young people need access. Youth empowerment is vital right now.”
He started the program after meeting with staff at his school and immediately felt welcomed by the staff and other fellow students.
“I felt really comfortable by the end of that first week,” he said. “It was really easy to make friends. Everyone was supportive and they all took it seriously too. The first couple weeks we learned knife skills, making sandwiches and going through all the recipes and learning how to prepare and serve them.”
The program is set up in cohorts and two cohorts overlap at a time. This way the youth who were new get a turn to mentor new students.
“Every four weeks there is a new cohort,” Ian said. He started to smile again. “You start as the new kids, but then four weeks later you are in there helping and teaching the new cohort. It’s great because we get to work with our peers and teach others. Then we get into the café and that’s when it really picks up.”
Participants work at the Café @ Pac Tower with real customers. The customer service experience stays with them as they go through the program and graduate. Ian wanted to get training in foodservice because he wanted something practical and grounded while he pursued one of his passions – hip hop music.
“Hip hop history was the only Latin American history I could identify with,” he said. “Being Puerto Rican, our traditional storytelling has been lost. No one wrote anything down. But when I started learning how much Puerto Ricans influenced hip hop, it gave me pride, you know? My people helped bring something beautiful in this world.”
Ian, when he isn’t going to school, is creating music and organizing events at a local hip hop nonprofit.
“I’ve been able to perform before real audiences,” he said. “You know, it’s a privilege to have places like FareStart and these artistic nonprofits here. They are so important to so many of us. They need to stay funded and keep doing the work. They’re beacons of hope in the community especially for youth.”