Natalie’s Story: ”I’m Going for It”

December 1, 2023

There’s something irresistible about Natalie’s (she/her) smile that just makes you want to know her better. She radiates warmth and kindness, and that shines through the strongest when she is in her happy place in the kitchen.

“I've always loved cooking,” said Natalie. “Like when I was a kid, my favorite shows were cooking shows, and I'd always pretend that I was making my own cooking show. I've always loved food and it was always staring at me in the face, like — this is your passion — but I really didn't do anything with that passion.”

It took some rough years for Natalie to come to this realization, but she is now on the path to making her passion for cooking a reality. After spells of living on the streets, serving time, overcoming a substance use disorder and escaping from a domestic abuse situation, Natalie feels a whole new world opening up for her. “All of that combined was really a wake-up call. It really opened my eyes to how badly I had messed up and that I can’t ever go back there. I came back determined to change my life and to do what I love.”

“FareStart Was Just the Next Step for Me in This Journey”

Enrolling in FareStart’s Food Pathways Program last spring was the natural next step for Natalie. She heard about the program through Vision House, an organization that helped Natalie find housing and identify her goals. Natalie was immediately intrigued when she read other students’ stories on the FareStart website, but the clincher was when she brought the idea up to her mom. “My mom knew FareStart well and flipped out,” Natalie recalled. “She said ‘I love FareStart. You have to do it. So if my mom’s saying this is good, then this is good.”

Natalie never looked back, enthusiastically embracing the challenges and opportunities that she encountered during the job training program.

“I smile so big when I talk about Natalie,” says FareStart Chef Trainer Casey. “She reminds me so much of myself coming through the program — very eager, very positive, very willing to do what it takes to advocate for her learning. So, when you run across a student like that, you want to pour everything that you have into that student because they deserve that, right? They deserve to get every bit of advantage or chance that you can give them.”

With the support of her FareStart case managers, chef trainers and employment specialists, Natalie now sees a brighter future for herself and her children. “The chefs really make you feel like you belong there. They give you the confidence and the sense that you belong in this kitchen. They give you praise when you need it, and they allow you to work on your own once you’ve been in there a minute. The responsibility is character-building, going in there and feeling like I know what I’m doing. I feel like they trust me, which has helped me a lot because, coming from my background, I felt like I’d lost trust in everything.”

“That's kind of what I try to pass on to the students,” says Casey. “If I can be that one person that's in your corner cheering you on and telling you that you too can change your story — no matter what past history would say about you — I'll believe in you until you believe in yourself. And that minute when they do that, the light goes on and it's a beautiful thing.”

The Story Isn’t Over

Natalie impresses everyone around her with the positive attitude she brings to everything she does, whether it’s mastering a new technique in the kitchen, encouraging new FareStart students, or persevering in her quest to regain custody of her first two children. With the help of a character reference and sobriety agreement from FareStart, Natalie is determined to create a new ending to her story: “Other than working towards my career path and what I want to do with my life, my time is really spent trying to get my kids back. I know it's a matter of time until I'll have them.”

“Natalie has really looked forward throughout this whole experience with a vibrant spirit and a sunny face,” says FareStart case manager Thomas. “She’s just been from day one really looking to conquer and really get things good for herself and her child, Raven, and especially the hope of getting her other two kids back. It speaks well to her spirit and resilience and just the person she is probably hardwired to be.”

“Good Things are Going to Happen”

Natalie hopes to open her own food truck someday, specializing in Jamaican cuisine. “I’m half Jamaican,” Natalie says. “But I didn’t grow up with my dad … or with my Jamaican family. I didn’t have that influence in my life. And I want to get in touch with those roots.”

With that goal in mind, the FareStart employment specialist who coached Natalie through practice job interviews connected her with Ventures, a Seattle nonprofit that offers business training, coaching and other support services to aspiring entrepreneurs with limited resources. She also helped Natalie map out some possible career paths and different ways to realize her dream, including gaining on-the-line restaurant experience working with made to order food.

“I've had a lot of people at FareStart cater to what I want to do or what direction I want to go in and then really genuinely want to help me get there,” says Natalie. “The FareStart employment specialist ran down all the different relationships they have with different companies; we sat there for hours, looking at all the different things that they offer and asking ‘What is it that you really want?’ and making a plan A, a plan B, and a plan C, so that if this doesn't work, then we'll have a plan B here. I have a whole bunch of things in my brain that I want to do, but I really needed help to map out exactly what I want and how I want to get there.”

Natalie recently marked the fourth anniversary of her sobriety. When she’s not working, she enjoys cooking at home with her 3-year-old daughter Raven and her best friend. Natalie is doing everything it takes to prove that she’s ready to welcome her first two kids back into her life.

“FareStart has been such an important step in my journey,” Natalie says. “My life's been a complete 360 and now I'm going for it … following and chasing after my dreams, which is food and feeding people.”

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You can learn more about our Food Pathways Program and other graduates here.

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