Youth Leader to Company Owner: Gioia's Story from Liberty's Kitchen
Gioia Barconey graduated from the Liberty’s Kitchen Youth Development Program in 2015 with hopes to improve her culinary skills and earn a higher wage in the workplace. She worked in the restaurant industry for several years after graduation, developing her culinary and conflict management skills. While she enjoyed working in kitchens, she was ready for more.
"If I wouldn't have gone through this program, there is no way I was just going to step out on faith and go and do a catering business,” Gioia says.
New Orleans-based Liberty’s Kitchen is a youth empowerment program just as much as it is a culinary training program: their mission is to create opportunities for leadership and cultivate personal and professional development for young people like Gioia. With this organizational philosophy in mind, the team at Liberty’s Kitchen decided to launch a Youth Leadership Council in 2015 around the same time that Gioia was graduating.
Dennis Bagneris, CEO of Liberty’s Kitchen, explains how the Council got its start:
“What we do is review our alumni base of the previous year- of the young people who have graduated from our program who are in work or in school, who have demonstrated tremendous impact, and who have truly embraced the culture of Liberty’s Kitchen. We take anywhere from 8 to 12 of these young people gather them together and we say ‘Hey, why don’t you guys help to dictate some these youth leadership opportunities?’”
Shortly after graduating from the program, Gioia served as President of the Liberty’s Kitchen Youth Leadership Council and took a leading role in the organization’s career advancement, food access, and entrepreneurship initiatives. Through her involvement with the Council, she works with Top Box Foods to prototype nutritious food options on offer through Liberty’s Kitchen corner store and community grocery pickup points. She also learned how to navigate organizational partnerships first hand through a collaboration with the local Second Harvest Food Bank of New Orleans in an initiative to develop culturally appropriate and desirable healthy prepared meals for their clients.
Gioia is a warm and innovative member of the Liberty’s Kitchen family. In addition to supporting food access projects, her role with the Leadership Council also serves to support the young adults currently enrolled in training. She has mentored students during their time in the program, participated in coaching conversations to empower trainees to manage conflict independently, and provided valuable feedback on how to improve the training program’s effectiveness.
What impact does the Leadership Council have on student ambassadors like Gioia? One result is that young people feel empowered to pursue their own entrepreneurial endeavors. In 2018, Gioia decided to start her own catering company with the support of the Liberty’s Kitchen commissary kitchen and office space. “Some people think ‘Okay she loves to cook. That's why she started a catering business.’ And I tell people, ‘If I wouldn't have gone through this program, there is no way I was just going to step out on faith and go and do a catering business,” Gioia says.
Gioia is an exemplary example how empowering youth to grow and learn can yield fantastic results. She has her own catering company, Greezy NOLA Catering, with the support of Liberty’s Kitchen programming.
Our Youth/Young Adult Training Workshop will focus on building program capacity and providing professional development to youth programs just like Liberty’s Kitchen. We hope to provide valuable resources for youth trainings across our network through a robust agenda including sessions on developing youth leadership and introducing trauma-informed care practices. This workshop is co-hosted by Liberty’s Kitchens and Café Reconcile in New Orleans on May 8th & 9th. Find more details at our events page or register here.