Joseph is a fast-talking 61-year old and a proud member of the staff at Inspiration Kitchens – Uptown. He grew up on Chicago’s south side in a rough neighborhood. As he puts it, he never expected to make it to 60.
Despite his environment, Joseph managed to get through high school and even graduate college with a bachelor’s degree in music. When he realized that his guitar playing was not providing a stable source of income, he turned to his experience working alongside his father (a chef) in the family kitchen to pay the bills.
Joseph has worked in food service for more than 40 years in the restaurant and catering industries. After his wife passed away, he followed a wide-ranging career to cities as far away as New York and New Orleans, where he worked with a catering company that provides disaster relief to victims of tragedies like 9/11 and hurricane Katrina.
“I’ve been working all my life,” he says.
Everything changed when Joseph was arrested in 2009 following a fight at a nightclub. He spent the next 18 months in jail: his first and only time in the criminal justice system.
When he was released on parole he was unprepared for how dramatically his situation had changed. It had always been easy for Joseph to find work, but now he was turned away from even entry-level jobs due to his felony background. “I don’t know if I was a risk, or what,” says Joseph.
He spent an extended period of time living off of his dwindling savings and SNAP benefits in Englewood. He had no source of income, no money to pay for transportation to and from the city, and no prospects for employment. He was surrounded by crime and spent the majority of his time in his home, afraid to be outside in the violent neighborhood.
As panic set in, Joseph began seeking help from social service providers: a humbling experience. He found that few programs exist to assist persons with felony backgrounds, and he was turned away from several sites before finding out about Inspiration Corporation’s food service training program online.
He came to an orientation for the course and was identified as a candidate that could easily be fast tracked into employment. “All the different places I went, this was the only one that took me in,” says Joseph.
“The training was great,” says Joseph, “It gave me a chance to brush back up. I’d been out of circulation for a while.”
Joseph excelled in the course, finishing at the top of his class with high marks and perfect attendance last November. His chef trainers noticed how well he worked with and assisted the other students and offered him a job as a cook at Inspiration Kitchens – Uptown after graduation. Joseph was thrilled.
He is proud of helping to train the students in the Inspiration Kitchens program. “Now I get to give something back,” he says. “I teach. I close up every night.”
Joseph is realistic about the future and happy to have a place where he belongs, “When I leave this last job I’m through. It’s hard sometimes, but I feel good at the end of the day.”
To Joseph, the most important part of his job is helping younger students learn to avoid the mistakes he made. “You have to do something to prepare for the future,” he says, “This is a good way to get started.”