Graduate Success Story: Derrick Bouknight

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Derrick never thought cooking would change his life. Then again, he never expected to achieve most of what he has over the past three years.

Derrick was at a low point in his life when he joined The Doe Fund. “I had lost my job, custody of my children, my apartment, and my car. Then I went to jail. I didn’t mentally or emotionally recover from those loses.” Ready, Willing & Able, The Doe Fund’s transitional work program for formerly incarcerated and homeless men, offered Derrick the chance to start again.

As much as he loves it now, Derrick wasn’t excited about joining The Doe Fund’s Culinary Arts team at first. But then, “I started having fun and learning things.” That’s when he decided to dedicate himself to the kitchen.

After graduating from Ready, Willing & Able, Derrick became a full-time employee in the Culinary Arts department, where he is Food Service Coordinator, Customer Service Class Instructor, and Farmers’ Market Manager.

He is eager to improve and give his all in the kitchen. “Being able to grow, learn and progress is such an amazing feeling.” Yet some of the most important changes in Derrick’s life have taken place outside of the kitchen. “I’m able to raise and take care of my grandchildren and children like I truly want to, and I’m able to be a positive role model in their life.”

Graduate Success Story: Wesley Morrall

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At sixty-two years young, Wesley M. isn’t slowing down. He gives his all to every task in the kitchen and prides himself on always working at his highest level.

Since becoming Food Service Coordinator ,for the past three years, Wesley has played a key role in preparing three nutritious, carefully-prepared meals each day for men at The Doe Fund’s Bed-Stuy facility. “I love to create food that tastes good.”

Although he has received a broad culinary education at The Doe Fund, Wesley is especially proud of the baking skills he’s gained here—and his delicious cinnamon raisin danishes speak for themselves!

Yet the culinary arts program has offered Wesley much more than cooking skills; it has offered him the chance to reconnect with family. “Since I came to The Doe Fund I have been able to have a positive relationship with my kids and grandkids.”

Click link for the recipe below to make Wesley’s famous danishes at home!

https://dishesbydoe.com/2014/09/15/recipe-alert-cinnamon-danishes/

 

 

 

Graduate Success Story: Leroy Green

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For Leroy, cooking isn’t just a job. It’s a way of life. “When I’m in the kitchen, all my worries go away.”

There was a time when Leroy had plenty to worry about. After 15 years in federal prison, he found himself spiraling towards his lowest point, accomplishing “a long list of nothing.”

He learned about The Doe Fund’s Ready, Willing & Able program, where he could gain new skills, get back on his feet, and make a fresh start. Maybe this was the change Leroy needed to finally break free from the nightmare he’d been living.

Ready, Willing & Able offers a variety of occupational training tracks but, for Leroy, the choice was simple: Culinary Arts. “I grew up in a house of women, so there was always something being cooked. I’ve always had a love for kitchen work–baking, cooking, preparing. It was just the right choice for me.”

In The Doe Fund’s Harlem kitchen, Leroy learned much more than culinary techniques. He learned invaluable life lessons from his mentors, to finish what he starts, and to think things through before reacting.

Leroy is now the Head Line Cook at a Manhattan restaurant, and training to become Kitchen Manager there. He’s more motivated than ever to pursue his dreams of one day running his own kitchen and “getting that chef’s title–Chef Lee!”

Angel’s Red Velvet Cupcakes

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Yield: 2 dozen cupcakes

Ingredients:
2 ½ cups flour
1 ½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1 ½ cup oil
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
2 tablespoons red food coloring
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Frosting:
1 pound cream cheese
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or use baking cups to line two 12-cup muffin pans.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the eggs, buttermilk, food coloring and 1 tsp. vanilla. Stir in the baking soda and vinegar. Combine the flour, cocoa powder and salt; stir into the batter just until blended. Spoon the batter into the prepared cups, dividing evenly. Bake for 20 minutes. In another large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and 1 tsp. vanilla together until smooth. Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat on low speed until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and mix until very light and fluffy. Once cupcakes are completely cool, top with cream cheese frosting. Enjoy!

Happy Retirement, James!

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Fifteen years ago, James was in a dark place. He had lost everything because of drugs and alcohol: his family, his home, and his job. The path before him was unclear–all he knew was the he couldn’t live like this anymore.

Then, James walked through The Doe Fund’s doors and his future started to take shape. “Everything changed for me. I was able to regain the self-respect that I had lost and learned new skills I never knew I had in me.”

The biggest skill he uncovered? Cooking. After completing The Doe Fund’s Culinary Arts training, he was hired to teach other men in the program, himself.

Since then, James has taught more than 1,000 Culinary Arts trainees. But he’s done much more than that. “Many guys come to me, not sure of themselves or what they want to do. Some are on the verge of giving up. I talk to them like a father or a big brother and even pray for them. Then they train and go out and get hired by major companies. It not only helps them…it helps me be a better person.”

Now James is busy cooking up something different: plans for his retirement. “I’ll be focusing more on my health, working more as a deacon in my church, and spending more time with my family–especially the grandchildren.”

James knows his life would have been very different if he hadn’t found The Doe Fund all those years ago.

“The Doe Fund changed my life and helped to make me a better person.” And The Doe Fund is a better place because of him.

Thank you and good luck, James!

Home For The Holidays With The Doe Fund

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For some, the holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year. For others, it can be a heavy hearted struggle. We must do our best to make sure everyone is in good spirits and thought of. Here is the story of Rasheem Hughes, and his reflections on the holidays as a Doe Fund trainee and now as a staff member.

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Rasheem Hughes, a graduate of The Doe Fund’s Ready, Willing & Able transitional work program and now Food Service Handler at our Bushwick facility, spent 17 years of his life incarcerated. He remembers feeling excited, motivated, and nervous about his first time home during the holidays while a trainee at The Doe Fund. For Rasheem, The Doe Fund provided an opportunity to be responsible, have a purpose in life, and to build and develop a work ethic for the very first time.

One of Rasheem’s most memorable moments as a trainee was the Holiday Party. He recalls that the staff made him feel welcome, supported, and as if he had a second chance in life to redeem himself. The food, atmosphere and bonds that were built reminded him of the same connection he had as a child during the holiday season with family and friends.

As a staff member, Rasheem is now contributing to the lives of trainees in the same way that The Doe Fund has contributed to his life. With support from fellow staff he is still growing to be the best he can. He offers guidance and support to trainees as they cope with struggles he can relate to so well. Rasheem feels as if he is now part of their solution to a better life.

When asked what advice Rasheem may have for trainees preparing for the holidays, whether they will be home for the first time since incarceration, facing family issues, or just haven’t found their own purpose as of yet, he stated, “focus on the opportunities that are offered, and take advantage of why you decided to join The Doe Fund. Trust and believe in the program because you will not regret it.”

Chef Kronna Williams

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Kronna Williams, left, preparing food with his team at a James Beard event. 

For a long time Kronna Williams believed that dreams were made for other people—not him. As a child, his reality was one of poverty and drugs. Of hardship and struggle. Of ultimately being placed in a group home because there was nowhere else for him to go.

By the age of 14 he was living on the streets of Harlem, selling drugs to survive and battling his own addiction. “The first time I was incarcerated I was just 15 years old,” says Kronna. He would end up spending nearly half his life behind bars. “Each time I was in prison I always thought I’d just go back to selling drugs when I got out. I didn’t think I had any other options.”

That all changed when he heard about The Doe Fund eight years ago. “It was a godsend,” Kronna says. “I knew I couldn’t continue down the same road. I knew I had to turn my life around. This was my chance. And I was determined to do it.”

It all started with the bucket. “Pushing the bucket was not just about cleaning up the streets, but more so about cleaning up my life,” says Kronna, who transitioned into the Ready, Willing & Able program seamlessly. “I always see people for who they are, not what they’ve done, and The Doe Fund does the same thing. So it was easy for me to meld here.”

It wasn’t long before Kronna began to realize that he did have options…that selling drugs wasn’t the only path before him. When it was time for him to select an occupational training track—hands-on learning that would prepare him for a stable career—the choice was clear: culinary arts. “Cooking is therapeutic to me,” he says. “I can remember watching my grandmother cook when I was very young. I was fascinated by the whole process…measuring ingredients, putting different flavors together. I love it. It’s a way to express myself and give back.”

Today, Kronna is giving back every day and expressing himself in each dish that he creates as the Executive Chef at our Peter Jay Sharp Center for Opportunity in Brooklyn—a position he’s held for the last three years. “The Doe Fund didn’t just help me find a job, they helped me find a career that I love. They helped me find confidence in myself and my abilities.”

He’s also found big dreams that once seemed meant for anyone but him. “One day I want to own my own business…a catering company, cooking school and restaurant all in one. I’m laying the ground work now, learning about the business end of culinary arts and saving money. Working at The Doe Fund is helping me toward that goal. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being here it’s that dreams can come true.”