Self-Empowerment with Ms. Joan

August 28, 2020

COVID-19 may have put a pause on FareStart’s job training programs, but it also gave staff an opportunity to assess and evolve some of our programming. We caught up with Joan Curvey (affectionately known as Ms. Joan) to talk about our new Self-Empowerment classes, a critical part of our Adult Culinary Program, that will be awaiting students when they return to FareStart, be it in person or remotely.

Ms. Joan, tell us a little bit about yourself, how you came to FareStart and your role.

I’ve seen and experienced a lot in my 70 years. In fact, I’ve had many of the same challenges as our students, including being a teen Mom, emotional, physical, and drug abuse, in addition to experiencing systemic racism. In my late twenties, I decided I didn’t want my two daughters to remember me at my worst, and I started to create a new path for myself. I got clean, gained job skills and started working. I would not have been able to accomplish this shift without the strong foundation of my upbringing, the support of my family and mentors who expected and knew I could do better. Learning how to love, like and respect myself was the first step of my healing process.

After working several years in corporate America and gaining stability, I started volunteering on my days off as a guest speaker at local nonprofit organizations. When I was at my worst, I was always searching for hope and encouragement, and hearing other people’s stories about how they became unstuck from their life challenges, motivated me. I wanted to do the same for others. Eventually, this led me to an opportunity to work full-time in the nonprofit employment and training industry, helping people understand their own value and inspiring them to move forward in their lives. 

On Monday, October 27, 2014, I joined the FareStart family. Here I am six years later as the self-empowerment skills trainer helping prepare students to make their own changes and rewrite their own life stories. This has become my calling, my path to greatness.

Why does FareStart’s Adult Culinary Program focus on more than just culinary skills?

The individuals who enroll in our program are seeking employment opportunities and ways to change the parts of their life that need to change. Most students have experienced significant trauma over the course of their lives. This can perpetuate a negative outlook on themselves and the world around them. Our program focuses on training students to become star employees, not just good employees. A crucial part of what we do at FareStart is to provide a community of support to teach, strengthen and remind individuals that they have greatness within them. Understanding this starts the process of allowing them to begin managing their behaviors, outlooks and outcomes. Taking responsibility for how you show up every day -- is a constant conversation throughout the program. 

Why did you change the classes from Life Skills to Self-Empowerment?

When the classes were called Life Skills, so often students would assume we were going to tell them how to live or fix their life. The classes are not about us fixing or changing anyone. We provide space and time for our students to evaluate themselves and decide what they need or want to change. The students are the ones who do the work – and everyone’s pathway is uniquely different. In addition to providing space and time, we offer different ways for them to consider their circumstances that will empower them as they navigate their own way in defining their best, true self. As a result, our training team decided it was time to change the name, so it matches the self-empowerment opportunity we are providing. 

The classes are designed to assist the students on their personal journey in defining their greatness. The new name reflects this journey, and the new curriculum puts the students squarely in control of their own lives.  

Can you tell us a little more about the new Self-Empowerment classes?

It was my manager Chef Dan Tiffany’s idea to create the Self-Empowerment curriculum modeled after the mantra the FareStart community practices, which is made up of six empowering statements, ending with “We Own Our Greatness.” This connects the students as a member of a community that represents a diverse group of people who own their greatness every day.

Each lesson will incorporate one of the six portions of the mantra along with videos, inspirational quotes and exercises to help students put the concepts into action for themselves. They also will create a power system, based on their personal values, which will allow them to identify the people, places and activities that will support them in staying powered up!

We are also aiming to help other departments within FareStart better understand the concepts in the Self-Empowerment classes. The mantra began as an activity between the Adult Culinary students and the Training Team… it is now part of our culture organization-wide. 

Due to COVID-19, FareStart will soon be piloting a virtual version of Self-Empowerment classes along with the rest of its Adult Culinary curriculum. What are some of the considerations in taking Self-Empowerment into the online world?

This has been an exciting challenge. In our pre-pandemic world, it was much more natural to connect with our students face-to-face and help them understand they are a part of our community. Our training team is now in training themselves so we can continue to bring that same connection to them virtually. We are working to ensure all students have internet access, the materials and the technology needed to successfully participate. The curriculum as written will work in a virtual class. We will include the FareStart mantra at the beginning of every class. Everything about virtual training is new, and we will be asking students to help us figure it out along the way, what to change and what to continue.

What would you like our supporters to know about our students and the new curriculum?

Students courageously come to FareStart to learn and to navigate a new path for themselves. They are resilient and have overcome huge obstacles and traumas. We have the privilege of supporting their goals and celebrating their successes alongside them.

We developed the Self-Empowerment curriculum to help remind, acknowledge and confirm to each one of them of their greatness, so they can rewrite their life stories and reach their future goals. When you support FareStart, you are a critical part of this process, so we thank you.