The deck was stacked against Roxann. A high school dropout, she had turned to drugs and had spent time in prison. She found herself in transitional housing with no job – or prospects for a job. She wanted to get her life back on track, but the odds weren’t in her favor.
Fortunately, Roxann’s case manager knew about Thrive DC and suggested that she check out our Real Opportunity culinary arts training program. The thought of an intensive six-month program was daunting though: “I’d never actually completed anything in my life before" said Roxann.
It wasn’t easy for Roxann, beginning with creating her resume. “I never learned how to use a computer. It was so frustrating.” But Thrive DC’s staff helped her every step of the way. Learning skills in our kitchen was easier for Roxann, and at times more meaningful.
When the Real Opportunity participants helped serve the breakfast they’d just prepared, Roxann would look at who she was serving and think, “It wasn’t long ago that that was me.”
Finally, Roxann’s externship at Open City made her feel good about getting up and going to work. It gave her a sense of purpose, especially since she hadn’t held a job in over 15 years. The Open City staff welcomed her with open arms. She felt supported. And when Roxann, who is also a breast cancer survivor, needed time off for doctors appointments, Open City’s Chef Carlos made sure she could take the time.
Roxann has been drug free for three years and has high hopes for the future. When asked at her Real Opportunity graduation ceremony what was next for her, she took the question quite literally and said, “I’m leaving here to go enroll in night school to finish high school.” After that, Roxann plans to give back, to help those who are homeless and struggling just like she was.
Two years ago Kennie Brown’s father passed away, and then he lost his job. He was staying with his cousin, but after Kennie started spiraling downwards his cousin kicked him out. He became homeless.
“He saw me drinking all the time, doing drugs, and he wasn’t having it. He kicked me out when he saw I wasn’t serious about getting my life together.”
It was a year of staying in and out of the 801 East homeless shelter before Kennie heard about Thrive DC. A friend of his at the shelter told him about the Real Opportunity program, how Thrive DC would pay a small stipend while they trained you to be a chef.
At first Kennie was only interested in the money part, but once he got in the program he started to see the kind of opportunity it was.
“Seeing how serious everyone else was made me serious. At first I wanted to be a part of the program for the money, but after I saw how valuable the experience could be I wanted the program for myself.”
Kennie was just one of three Real Opp trainees to make it through a grueling six month program. But it paid off. He now has a full-time job at Jamba Juice, has a steady place to stay with his brother and a friend, is living clean, and is less than two months away from having enough saved up to move into a place of his own and being financially sustainable.
“The more serious I got, the more people wanted to help me. My advice to people who want to join the Real Opp program is to take everything seriously. This program can make or break you, but if you can do it the right way, you can be a success story.”