This blog post was created by KCTS 9 marketing and communications intern Victoria W. in collaboration with KCTS 9 staff.
Peering through the windows of FareStart’s Virginia St. restaurant in Seattle on a Thursday night, you might observe an inviting industrial-chic, candlelit dining space complete with fantastically adorned plates of seasonal specialties. But what you may not grasp at first glance is the intricate social enterprise at work behind the scenes: a team of chefs involved in a specialized job-training program at work in the kitchen, volunteer servers from local businesses waiting the tables, and dozens of administrative offices and career-building resources piled into the floors above.
Founded in the late ’80s originally as a for-profit business, FareStart is about to celebrate its 25-year anniversary as a prominent nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of the impoverished, jobless and previously incarcerated individuals through an extensive 16-week culinary training program.
According to FareStart Marketing and Communications Director Stephanie Schoo, it started as an effort to bring nutritious foods to local shelters, until founder David Lee “…had this idea that maybe some of these people living in the shelters can actually help make these healthy meals, and so work their way out of the shelters. So it transformed — providing job training to help people become self-sufficient became the primary goal.”
Chef Jermaine Jenkins is a 2012 graduate of the program. After working at Woodmark in Kirkland for the four following graduation, he rejoined the FareStart team as a chef instructor, which he says has allowed him to give back.
When asked what initially drew him to FareStart, he says that he had a friend who went through the program and had encouraged him to do the same. Ten months sober when he began the culinary training, Chef Jermaine is now five-and-a-half years sober. Reflecting on his training, he says, “What I liked about the program is it taught me the finer essence of cooking… temperatures, safety factors, presentation — all that stuff I learned here. Most people cook to live — we cook to enjoy and to serve.”
His advice to anyone interested in going through the program is that they know they are worth it. “I tell the students all the time, ‘Every reason you are here and you join this program, those are all the reasons I joined this program. Those various walks of life… I’ve walked most of them. So I truly understand what you’re going through.”
Aside from providing culinary training, FareStart also places students in affordable housing through various local partners. Additionally, FareStart holds provides clothing, gives out bus passes, offers career-planning services such as resume and interview assistance, and also offers “life skills” classes for additional support.
“Almost all of our students and graduates talk about the life skills class because — for people who have been homeless or have been in prison and those types of circumstances — just learning how to dress, how to interact and how to handle themselves in the kitchen… having all that in place and being that support helps make our students successful and our programs successful,” Schoo says. “The fact that someone cares about them transforms them on another level.”
The overarching goal of FareStart is to create a positive ripple-effect throughout the community. Skilled workers benefit the business sector and “productive citizens” benefit society as a whole, says Schoo. Indeed, the organization’s success is now spreading across the country. Catalyst Kitchens is a “global initiative of Seattle-based FareStart,” offering organizations that seek to replicate FareStart’s model.
Schoo encourages interested individuals to show their support for FareStart and help spread the word by donating, volunteering, participating in clothing drives, utilizing the catering services, visiting their café and coming to their restaurant. I know I’ll be back — Chef Jermaine promised me a mean risotto.