So much can happen in a year, and Latepa, a graduate of our Foodservice Training program, is living proof of that.  She had all but given up after years of struggling to stay out of poverty, but now that she has found support and chosen a new path in life, Latepa has a very different outlook: “Every change is not bad. [Inspiration Corporation] picks you up.”

Born and raised in Englewood, Latepa started down the path of rebellion around age 14.  She was incarcerated at 16, like so many other young African American women in Chicago.  According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, young black women were almost five times more likely to be incarcerated than white women of the same age in 2010.

Jail time pushed Latepa to better herself–she completed anger manaProcessed with VSCOcam with g3 presetgement classes, received her GED, and was able to reduce her sentence due to good behavior.

Despite her hard work, Latepa felt frustrated and out of options upon her release from prison. Struggling to maintain stable employment, she returned to a life of crime that would continue for the next several years.  It wasn’t until she was 24 that a series of encounters led her through Inspiration Corporation’s doors and onto a path of positive change.

Just days before Christmas 2014, Latepa boarded a CTA train with the intention of committing a crime.  Her plans were interrupted by a stranger who handed her a flier including a list of social service agencies.  Inspiration Corporation was at the top of the list, and Latepa called immediately. She ended up speaking with one of the case managers for so long that she missed her stop, and by the end of the call she was on the schedule to attend an orientation for our Employment Services program.

When she started, Latepa wasn’t sure how to feel about the trainer leading the 4-week employment preparation training program that helps participants build job-search skills and prepare to enter the workforce.  “[The trainer was] the nicest lady in the world.  I thought something was wrong with her.”  She quickly learned that the positive atmosphere was genuine, and she opened herself up to learn more.

Continuing along her path toward self-sufficiency after graduating from the workshop, Latepa decided to enroll in our 9-week Foodservice Training program.  “I saw the chefs in their chef hats, and I wanted that.”

One of the most refreshing things about Latepa’s story is her honesty about adjusting to life on a new path. “The streets were still trying to pull me in.”  It wasn’t until she was attacked by a group of men on the street that she realized she had to fully commit to a new life.

As soon as she graduated the Foodservice Training program in May 2015, Latepa was offered a transitional job at Inspiration Kitchens – Uptown, which quickly turned into a permanent position.  In August, she also began working at the University Center – a state-of-the-art residence hall in downtown Chicago – where she works in the cafeteria alongside 150 other employees.  Looking toward the future, she hopes to be a sous chef, and possibly even an executive chef someday.

Latepa has nothing but gratitude for the opportunities provided to her, and she gives back by inspiring others with her story. “It may be a little program to everybody else, but it’s the world to me.”