2023 Winner: Marisa Peña
Marisa Peña, Program Manager (Stone's Throw), Bread Line, Inc.
Nominated by co-worker, Hannah Hill:
Chef Marisa rises to every new challenge as they come & always performs with the utmost excellence, compassion, professionalism & style. Chef Marisa runs two adult sessions - in the fall & winter - of the Bread Line's culinary job training program, Stone's Throw. These are held at our soup kitchen in Fairbanks, Alaska. Marisa has polished the class curriculum, works closes with community life skills coaches & local restaurants to enhance the learning experience of our students. She teaches in the classroom & the kitchen while also holding space for any student or graduate who needs to talk. In the summer, Chef Marisa leads a very popular culinary program inside the Fairbanks Youth Facility for the young people incarcerated there.
Chef Marisa also runs the Bread Line's earned-income catering arm, working with students & graduates to showcase their impressive culinary skills in the community in a great number of ways - everything from high-end caterings to "Chef At The Market demos at the local farmer's market. Additionally, Chef Marisa - with her corporate culinary background - manages the weekly food ordering & deliveries for all the Bread Line's anti-hunger programs. Her skills in product control & pricing has kept our organization's overhead low despite serving at an all time high.
Our organization is so small - one of the smallest in the Catalyst Kitchen's family - but we do BIG work in our remote community every day. Chef Marisa leads by example through her professional talent, incredible work ethic, even keel, deep compassion, great humor & mission motivation. In the face of profound & systemic challenges, her commitment to serving out students at the highest possible level - always meeting them where they are at - knocks down barriers to their success. She is a champion of her students. Chef Marisa makes the Bread Line a stronger, better place by being on this team. Her work leading the Stone's Throw culinary job training program is making a measurable impact on our community as a whole.
Chef Marisa's methods increased post-graduation employment to an astonishing 85%! Early in the pandemic, she pivoted an active class to online, which allowed students in assisting living facilities (half of the class) the flexibility to continue classes even during lock downs... 100% of that class graduated & found employment. Chef Marisa connected our culinary program to Fairbanks' local literacy organization, helping students achieve their GED, get resume assistance & build critical computer literacy during their coursework. She also connected with Fairbanks' local disability/access organization & offers free kitchen skills to their participants. Presently, Chef Marisa is in the process of developing a whole new baking program in order to have opportunity for people with limited in-person availability (specifically working parents) as well as a barista program for young people coming out of incarceration.