NewsPositively San Diego


San Diego non-profit helps people overcome barriers to employment.

Posted at 5:48 PM, Jan 29, 2024

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - A San Diego non-profit is helping people with barriers to employment find a career.

Kitchens for Good offers California state-certified apprenticeship programs to people who have mental illness, the unsheltered, or those who have criminal backgrounds.

Jennifer Alarcon is a recent graduate.

"They were just like, we'll teach you, and I kept continuing to grow and continuing to learn, and I just discovered myself," said Alarcon.

That self-discovery didn't come easily. Alarcon served eight years in prison.

"Everybody has a story. There's reasons why people end up incarcerated. Some are different than others, but it doesn't make you or define you," said Alarcon.

She said a toxic and abusive relationship with her former boyfriend, who is still in prison, led to her arrest. Alarcon said she did a lot of work on herself while in prison.

"It taught me to love myself, to develop who I was, to spend more time knowing who I was and not being such a people pleaser and just discover myself," said Alarcon.

She says the thought of leaving prison was nearly as frightening as entering it.

"That was scary. You're getting to the end of your sentence, and you're like, what's the next chapter in my life? What's that look like? So, I heard about Kitchens for Good, and I wanted to learn how to cook, so I said, well, all these options are going in my favor, so why not try it? It turned out to be an amazing program," said Alarcon.

The program provides ten weeks of training in the kitchen before partnering the student with a local business to finish the remainder of their year-long education.

Chef Amanda Palomino is the culinary instructor.

"It can be very hard for some of our apprentices to find work just some of the barriers that they face, some of the barriers are from the justice system, and having a record is usually, it's a hard thing to explain in an interview or sending out your resumes to places," said Chef Palomino.

Other apprentices need help finding childcare or housing.

"The other barrier is food insecurity or housing needs or childcare needs, and all of those things are really hard, especially for those of us in this industry because daycares aren't really built for a working mom that's in a restaurant and not getting home until midnight," said Palomino.

Alarcon is working for Continental Catering in La Mesa. The business is one of several that partners with Kitchens for Good.

"We often have people from all different backgrounds, but it was so great to be able to partner with this particular program because we have people who may have come from all different walks of life, but you know they want education. They want to change their lives. They're able to go through this program, and we're able to kind of bridge that gap between them and other job markets," said Chef Daisy Garcia, executive sous chef with Continental Catering.

Alarcon said she'll never forget when she was first called "chef."

"It was a really, really good feeling because, like my instructor taught me, you don't just get called a chef, you gotta earn that position; that's not just something you get called," said Alarcon.

Since the program started in 2014, eight hundred people have graduated. Roughly 80% of them are working in the hospitality industry.

Alarcon says her dream job is to work as a private chef on a yacht.

She hopes more employers will be willing to give people like her a second chance.

"Look at the person as an individual and not as a background. Don't let the past define you."

More information about the organization can be found here :