We would like to take a moment to congratulate one of our extraordinary young adults and co-mentors, Leonardo Jimenez, on his recent acceptance into L.A. Kitchen’s culinary arts and nutrition advocacy training program! Leo has been in foster care for the past twenty years – since the day he was born – but that hasn’t stopped him from pursuing his dreams and developing into the kind and compassionate young man he is today. We first met Leo last year when he participated in a job shadowing program through National Foster Youth Institute (NFYI). On his second day of shadowing us, he helped tremendously with our annual summer picnic, connected with our Youth in Transition members immediately, and was all around lovely to work with. Leo then began participating in our co-mentoring program. He engages completely with his fellow mentors and is adored and appreciated by many. As our Youth in Transition Program Director Beth Ryan shared, Leo “brings such a sense of joy and a willingness to connect with others.” He “is a ray of light and pure joy to have around.”
Leo first learned about L.A. Kitchen when he toured the facility with his transitional housing program, First Place for Youth, and he immediately fell in love. Extraordinary Families also partners with L.A. Kitchen, referring our young adults to the program when possible. For those who are unfamiliar, L.A. Kitchen prepares youth aging out of foster care, older adults exiting the prison system, and others struggling with barriers to employment for careers in the food service industry. Using a whole-person approach to vocational training, incorporating culinary arts, life skills, nutrition education, community activism, and professional development, L.A. Kitchen empowers its participants, helps reduce systemic patterns of recidivism into the prison system, and reverses anticipated outcomes for youth who have experienced foster care. Over the course of the 15-week training cycle, students receive daily hands-on training from a certified culinary instructor, attend sessions on specialized techniques taught by local guest chefs, and intern with innovative industry professionals. On-staff social workers also work with and focus on the needs of each participant to support them through the process. Graduates receive food handling certificates, job placement support, and continuing personal and professional support. As a part of the program, L.A. Kitchen also distributes fresh meals and snacks to social service agencies that serve Los Angeles’ most vulnerable populations.
We are all very proud of Leo for his acceptance into this program and know that this is only the beginning of his culinary path: Leo’s goal is to eventually open a restaurant of his own. But not just any restaurant – one that guarantees two free meals per day for any homeless or needy person within the community! Leo also hopes to be a stellar advocate for other youth in or who have experienced foster care, especially within the LGBTQ community, and he hopes to someday marry and build a family with his husband through foster/care adoption. For other youth in care, Leo offered the following advice: Don’t ever let your past make your future. You may not have been able to control your past, but you definitely can control your future. Do what makes you happy! Be strong, wise, and take your past as a lesson to teach you who you are and what you can accomplish! Life is what you make it, so make the best out of it!…Don’t ever blame yourself for what happened to you in (foster care) or in your past!….Be an advocate for yourself. Don’t ever stay quiet. If you don’t like something, speak up! Your voice counts! And stay strong and positive! (Foster Care) may not be what you want it to be, but remember this – your situation could be worse than living in a strangers home!….Never take life for granted! The sky is the limit! Don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re not worthy of anything or down talk you! Prove them wrong. Show them that you can and will become someone in life! ”
Congratulations Leo! We are so honored to be a part of your life journey, and we can’t wait to get a sample of your culinary skills!