“It was a blessing that I found this and followed through.”
At 43, Maurice Cooper was ready to switch careers. After two years at UPS, he was physically exhausted, working late hours in a job that was taking a toll on his body.
Worse, his family had lost their home during the mortgage crisis. He, his wife, and his four kids (a 17-year-old daughter, and three sons ages 16, 14, and 13) were looking for another place to stay, but in the meantime, they were living in hotels. He was also emotionally exhausted. Something needed to change.
When Maurice saw a flyer advertising a free 14-week culinary jobs training program, he called the Rhode Island Community Food Bank’s Community Kitchen to apply. For Maurice, it presented the option for a new lifestyle. He could spend more time with his family, prepare meals for them like his mother did for him. And he could give back to his community; as a member of the Freemasons, he could potentially run their kitchen.
He was accepted to Class 66, but unexpectedly needed emergency surgery, spending six weeks recuperating.
Still recovering from his surgery, he was able to start the program with Class 67. He credits the Community Kitchen staff for helping him through those difficult times.
“They could sense some of the distress in my face,” he says, tears welling in his eyes. Community Kitchen’s Chef Ron advised him to avoid rushing back into things and causing complications. Career Readiness and Life Skills Manager Mev Miller connected him with services and leads on housing (his family finally found housing in April).
“It takes a lot of patience, a lot of perseverance,” says Maurice. But Community Kitchen also helps a lot.
“They give you a lot of tools, they give you a lot of guidance, they give you a lot of hope. It’s all right here, and they give it to you… It’s more than just a culinary school.”
He’s seen the changes produced through Community Kitchen in his fellow students, and he’s certain they can see the change in him. They’re all more emotionally aware, more forthright in the way they talk to each other. And they’re more willing to share their stories with one another.
Maurice is already seeing success. Before he graduated, he had lined up a job as a sauté cook at Angelo’s on Federal Hill. He credits the interview preparation at Community Kitchen for helping him get the job. During his interview, he didn’t stumble or pause, and he remembers thinking when he left, “Wow, I just did that?”
For Maurice, Community Kitchen has been a big confidence boost. His on-the-job training site, IGT in Providence, encouraged him to keep an eye on their job openings. He’s taken his communications skills home to model better behavior for his children, and is seeing them catch on. The Freemasons have suggested he run their kitchen.
“It was a blessing that I found this and followed through,” he says about Community Kitchen.
“It can change your life for the better.”