Katrina's "Tough Love" Approach at Kitchens for Good

December 8, 2019

When student alumni return to visit San Diego-based Kitchens for Good, their first stop is Katrina's office.  Katrina has been leading the charge as Director of Career Development since the first student walked through their doors. Two hundred and fifty graduates later, Katrina's office door remains open for all alumni to revisit the sense of home & belonging created by the Kitchens for Good staff & volunteers. Katrina admits, "I'm the Momma Hen here." Katrina was one of our Catalyst for Change nominees in 2019 and has led Kitchens for Good (KfG) students since the program's first class in 2016.

 

Katrina's professional story makes it seem like she had her current role in mind all along. She worked as a professional recruiter for about 15 years, coaching job seekers to put their best foot forward with a polished resume and proper interview techniques. She taught in various school settings, picking up effective teaching techniques informed by an awareness of different learning styles amongst her students. Feeling a pull towards social service, she returned to school to receive a master's degree in therapy, navigating the ins and outs of managing past trauma and effective communication.

In her current role, she pulls from these experiences and blends employment placement, classroom teaching, and therapeutic support. "This job really was made for me,” says Katrina. “I love it and am passionate about it." That passion is palpable in a brief conversation with Katrina, peppered with student stories and bright with enthusiasm for Kitchens for Good's inspiring sense of community.

 

So, what keeps Katrina motivated? "One of my students came in today and got a job at a resort. She was so excited, glitter was coming out of her pores” recalls Katrina. “I said, 'Oh yeah, that's why we do this. Student success.'"

 

Measuring Happiness

Many KfG program graduates enter the workforce as prep cooks; some with previous culinary experience apply for higher paying line cook positions. Employment is one goal of the program, but it’s not the only goal. Katrina's team looks beyond the immediate employment success measurement for students. Transitioning out of a recovery program, being reunified with children, going on vacation for the first time: all of these can indicate a higher quality of life and economic stability. The first time a student takes a sick day and it's not detrimental to their monthly budget can be a life changing transition.

 

Hard skills aren't everything

Of course, knife skills and culinary knowledge are important in our program model. However, at Catalyst Kitchens we view soft skills as the determining factor of student success. Every day at Kitchens for Good starts with a formal staff & student check in, an inspiring quote, and an hour and a half of career readiness. Skills like strong communication, hand shaking, following directions, and understanding social dynamics are covered to prepare students for working with a team in the kitchen. One of the first exercises in the program includes students writing a letter to their former selves to leave their past behind and start fresh. This is a great example of how Katrina and her team encourage their students to understand their past trauma and move forward in a positive direction through the program's guidance.

 

The pre-graduation anxiety

Katrina reports that the biggest challenge for students is the end of the program. The Kitchens for Good community is a strong, supportive environment; the idea of launching back into the “real world” can be daunting for students to face as the weeks dwindle. Many worry they won't find a job upon graduation - with Kitchens for Good's 75% graduation rate, this is the exception, not the rule.

Despite her tireless work in her role, Katrina believes that graduates know the most about how to support current students and is looking for ways to empower alumni involvement. She would like to start an alumni liaison program for graduates to receive a stipend to advise students as they transition from the program to employment. "Leaving the nest" can be daunting for students; having a guide who has walked their path successfully creates greater stability in those first months of employment in Katrina's eyes. She declares, "No one knows what students need more than themselves."

The community that Kitchens for Good has built for students is the engine that keeps the program running. Students from all classes return to visit to tell the staff how they're doing and connect to the larger Kitchens for Good alumni network. Stories are told, successes are celebrated, and the community is welcoming no matter when a student graduated the program. Their supportive environment keeps students motivated throughout the program and beyond to find their path. “I give tough love and reward students for hard work" says Katrina.

 

Kitchens for Good's program has grown tremendously in 4 years and it shows no signs of slowing down. Their future goals include a bakery apprenticeship program, building their employer council structure for graduating students, increasing their food recovery to at least 40% of product used, and offering a Front of House program in catering and events management. They will be one of the first Catalyst Kitchens members to pilot our new Front-of-House curriculum focused on training students in full-service restaurants and catering businesses.

 

Final words of wisdom from Katrina on how she finds student success: "We don't focus on their barriers. We focus on their qualifications." It is no wonder that Kitchens for Good has seen such great success with Katrina leading students in their careers.

In other good news, Kitchens for Good is our most recent Model Member! Their exemplary student outcomes and employment placement rates passed our Standards Review in December 2019 with flying colors. They will join 16 Model Member programs leading the network in proven training practices and yearly outcome reports with over 65% or higher student graduation rates.                              

Interested in learning more about Kitchens for Good? Visit with us in May! Our 2020 Summit is hosted by Kitchens for Good in San Diego, California. Our National Summits bring together a unique community of culinary leaders, nonprofit social justice champions, and social enterprise innovators ready to take on the challenge of joblessness in our communities. For an opportunity to connect with this professional community and see the Kitchens for Good program, check out our 2020 National Summit, May 12th – 14th, 2020.

 

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Corinne Molz

Corinne brings experience to her role of Communications Coordinator from her background in event planning, international development undergraduate degree, and her passion for the foodservice job training social enterprise model. Her career goals are devoted to lifting others out of the cycle of poverty through economic empowerment through employment/workforce development. She previously served FareStart as a Catering Captain, Catalyst Kitchens as Program Associate, and currently manages all More