Success Story: Dennis Wilson

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When Dennis remembers his childhood holidays, delicious home cooking always comes to mind. “All the women in my family were great cooks. Most of my family came from the South, so we always had fried chicken, collards, and cornbread when we got together.”

Dennis loved to help out in the kitchen and even dreamt of one day cooking professionally. Decades later, he’s finally realizing that dream.

A friend told Dennis about The Doe Fund’s Ready, Willing & Able program, where he could gain new skills and train for a career in the culinary arts. It sounded too good to be true. “I thought my friend was exaggerating. But then I got here and it was even better than I had hoped!”

After a few months on pots and pans duty, Dennis began working his way up in the kitchen. His talent and passion for baking soon became clear, and he began preparing muffins, cookies, breads, and danishes for The Doe Fund’s weekly farmers markets.

Dennis’s hard work and dedication have paid off. In a few day’s time he’ll join the culinary staff at The Doe Fund’s Harlem Center for Opportunity as its newest Food Handler.

Eventually, Dennis hopes to own his own bakery. But for now he takes each day as it comes. “It’s about becoming motivated and inspired by what you do. I know this is going to lead to something great.”

Harlem BBQ: Recognition & Recipe

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Today we’re pleased to share this perfect-for-summer dish, one of the many prepared for The Doe Fund’s annual summer BBQ by the Harlem Culinary Arts team.

For 20 years, the Harlem Center for Opportunity has provided training, education, and support to help formerly incarcerated and homeless men reach their potential. A few months ago, 38 Culinary Arts trainees became program graduates—that’s 38 more men who have transformed their lives and their futures through the power of opportunity and hard work.

One of the highlights from the BBQ was the special recognition Kronna Williams and Danny Djoro received for 10 years of service to The Doe Fund. Like many of our chefs, Kronna and Danny were once trainees themselves. Now they teach and mentor other men on their journey through the kitchen and onto a brighter future.

Congratulations to Kronna and Danny, and we hope you enjoy the recipe below!

Asparagus & Wild Mushroom Salad

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Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients:

1 ½ lbs. asparagus spears, cut into thirds
1 ½ lbs. sliced mushrooms
½ cup diced red onions
½ cup diced red pepper
½ cup diced green pepper
½ cup diced yellow pepper
½ cup olive oil
Juice from 2 lemons
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°

Place all vegetables in a large bowl and toss with the olive oil.

Spread vegetables on a sheet pan. Roast vegetables for 15 minutes and allow to cool completely.

Place roasted vegetables in a large bowl and toss with lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer to a serving dish and enjoy!

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: 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!”

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!

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.”

Another Winning Recipe from The Harlem Harvest Bake-Off

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The Doe Fund team stole the show at this month’s Harlem Harvest Festival and prepared this Carrot Cake recipe to judges and audience members. It won first place alongside our brownie recipe!

Ingredients:
1½lbs Cake Flour
2tbsp Baking Powder
1tbsp Baking Soda
1tbsp Salt
2tbsp Cinnamon
12 Eggs
1¼lbsGranulated Sugar
1½lbs Dark Brown Sugar
3¾cup Canola Oil
2tbsp Vanilla Extract
3lbs Carrots (shredded)
1lb Pecan (chopped)
1lb. Coconut (shredded)

Directions:
Beat eggs and sugar until it becomes thick and foamy. Fold in the rest of your ingredients. Mix until everything is thoroughly blended. Place in a sprayed sheet pan dusted with sugar. Bake at 325 degrees for 50 minutes. Cool, cut and enjoy!