Student Spotlight

From Unemployment to Opportunity

FBRI - DeeHeatherSometimes in life, you have the chance to step back and ask yourself, “What’s next?” After 17 years working at Citizens Bank, Dee Lopes (pictured, right, with Chef Heather Langlois) was suddenly unemployed and asking herself that very question. With little formal education, she didn’t have many opportunities in front of her. Instead of giving up, she decided to take a chance and do something to make her life better.

She knew that she always wanted to be a chef but she wasn’t sure how to make it happen. And she was scared.

“A friend told me about the Community Kitchen program at the Food Bank,” she said, “but I was nervous about being in the classroom after such a long time.”

Still, Dee contacted the Food Bank, set up an interview, and was accepted into Class 49 of the free culinary-arts training program.

For the next fourteen weeks, she would be immersed in practical cooking skills, food service rules and regulations, and preparing for success on the job once she graduated.

And tests. There were tests that she needed to pass to succeed.

“In the kitchen, I was great. I could do anything. It was everything else that was scary.”

After being out of school for so long, Dee was afraid of approaching the text books and exams. But she wasn’t alone. She had her classmates and the head of the program, Chef Heather Langlois, who was determined to help Dee succeed.

“Chef Heather supported me the whole time, telling me that I could do it. When I had a hard time, she was always there for me. She helped me out a lot.”

When Dee first started her on-the-job training, someone said, after a particularly hard day, “I thought you would have given up.” But she could hear Chef Heather’s voice supporting her and telling her that she could do it.

The program helped with more than just teaching Dee to cook. It built her self-esteem and confidence, preparing her to take on a leadership role.

She went from worrying about passing her tests to training in the cafeteria at Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, to ultimately working full-time running the entire kitchen for the Jewish Alliance of Rhode Island, cooking for more than one hundred kids every day.

“Now that I’ve graduated, people see my work and ask if I went to Johnson & Wales. I tell them that I went to the Food Bank!”