Mareaner worked for most of her life doing administrative work in the corporate world while running a small catering business for special dinners on the side. In 2009, she lost her full-time job when her company downsized she and relocated her family to Chicago to be closer to her ailing sister. That’s when things started to fall apart.
Unable to find work for a long period of time, Mareaner quickly exhausted her savings and relied on her unemployment benefits to provide for her family. She found an internship at an area catering company to gain some work experience, but the company was having struggles of its own and the promise of moving from intern to paid employee was never realized.
In 2010, her sister’s home was foreclosed, and Mareaner was forced to move into a Salvation Army shelter with her two youngest sons. Up to this point, her family had always been middle class and she was unprepared to deal with poverty.
Frustrated with not finding administrative work, and with only three weeks of unemployment benefits left, Mareaner heard about Inspiration Kitchens from another patient while waiting in her son’s dentist office. Inspired by the memory of her grandmother’s kitchen – for whom she is named – and her love of cooking Mareaner decided to enroll in the program.
“You fixed the foundations,” she says, “You helped me ‘remember’ how to cook.” Mareaner excelled in the course, earning high marks and quickly picking up the skills and confidence she would need to succeed.
She says that the program prepared her for the challenges she would later face in her new career. “The different things that I learned have helped me to get jobs,” she says.
Mareaner explained to me that working with several different chef trainers exposed her to different cooking styles and prepared her to work productively with different personality types. “It was a real model of the work experience,” she says, “It prepared us for all the drama of a real kitchen.”
A week before graduation, Mareaner suffered a major setback when she fell down the stairs and broke her right wrist. A right hander, Mareaner worried that she would no longer be able to cook and surgery was required to correct the injury.
Undaunted, she decided to continue the course while the injury was still healing and completed the program with the highest scores in her class using her left hand. She laughs that her supervisors are often surprised to see her write with her right hand after working with a southpaw in the kitchen.
Mareaner was employed within a month of graduating the Inspiration Kitchens program. Although the $8.25 per hour salary at her first cooking job was not enough to provide for her family, things continue to improve. Now she makes over $12 an hour and feels for the first time in her life like she is pursuing a career that gives her a sense of fulfillment and purpose. Mareaner has been working steadily in kitchens at Northwestern, University of Chicago, and Chipotle (among others) since she graduated from Inspiration Kitchens in October 2011. She now works full time for the University of Chicago, and is also looking for some seasonal work to supplement her income this fall. Recently she even filled in for the lead chef at her work while he went on vacation. She dreams of one day opening her own restaurant.
“Inspiration Corporation helps people who have a dream but don’t have the resources to achieve it,” she says. “You are helping people’s dreams come alive.”