Two years ago, Solomon Foy was two months away from his release from a five-year prison term. He was reading the Plain Dealer and came across an article about Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries’ programs to help with re-entry. He knew that he had to learn skills that would provide a good foundation so that he could get on a solid path as soon as possible, and he felt strongly that this was the place to begin. Everything he owned was lost while he was in prison. “I walked out of there with nothing more than this,” he says, gesturing at his clothing. Family was helpful but Solomon knew he needed to be able to take care of himself. He needed a job, but it’s notoriously difficult for convicted felons to find solid employment, and with no job, driver’s license, reliable transportation, decent clothing, or permanent address, it’s nearly impossible.
Luckily there are people and organizations that aren’t intimidated by “impossible,” and LMM is one of those. Soon after arriving back in Cleveland, Solomon walked from his halfway house up E. 55th St. toward the area where he thought LMM should be and happened upon some people in chef coats. “I asked them if they knew where to find Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries and the cooking classes, and they took me there,” he laughs.
When we last talked with Solomon for the Edible Cleveland Spring 2015 issue, writer Justin Glanville was following him and his three classmates, William James, Markeila Young, and Charlatte Rue, as they completed their culinary and employment skills classes at LMM. We wanted to check in with this group, known as the Edible Four, to see how they’re doing now, along with some very progressive and exciting changes at LMM.
Every one of the Edible Four is working in kitchen jobs at the moment. Solomon started at Progressive Field, but moved into a full-time year-round line cook position at Beerhead on the East Bank of the Flats after his first baseball season. Cleveland’s sports teams are fertile ground for employment in the food industry, with large stadiums full of people to feed (and these days, to feed well!) and hard workers needed. Three of the Edible Four worked at either First Energy Stadium or Progressive Field after completing the culinary program. These are seasonal jobs, but they are an excellent start for the graduates because there are opportunities to learn a ton about working in a kitchen and to prove themselves as reliable employees.
In Solomon’s case, he gained experience with finer foods like lobster and shrimp in the Terrace Club. Will James’s supervisor at First Energy Stadium said, “Mr. James is awesome! Excellent attitude and teamwork!” Markeila worked at Progressive Field upon completion. Charlatte had worked in a nursing home previously and followed that path again after completing the culinary classes.
Working as part of a team in a kitchen is never a peaceful, easy job and Solomon speaks strongly about the need for a stable, calm demeanor while working in an often chaotic environment. This is not something that he had a firm grasp on before he started at LMM. He’d panic, he says, in stressful situations. He learned to tell himself, “It’s all OK, Solomon, you’ve got this!” This sounds like a simple skill, but it doesn’t come easily for everyone and needs to be reinforced.
Pride is evident when hearing Solomon speak of his ability to calm others working with him during stressful times. This is just one part of the well-rounded education in every day situations that LMM facilitates. The focus on a strong foundation in basic life skills such as establishing credit, a bank account, keeping a consistent phone number, and buying a car are crucial to the students’ success.
Since we last visited LMM, an innovative new program intended to give a head start on a new start has been implemented. Chopping for Change provides culinary training, work experience, counseling, classes in financial literacy and parenting, and case management to women currently in prison. Working along with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections and the Cuyahoga County Office of Re-entry, and with a grant from Wheat Ridge Ministries in Illinois, LMM wants to ensure success for participants at the time of their release. The women in the Chopping for Change program assist in the production of nearly 2,000 meals a day for area homeless shelters.
Culinary instructor, Laura Campbell, who started with LMM in November of 2015, is a Culinary Institute of America graduate and previously led the bakery at Mustard Seed Market, where she learned that one of her biggest motivations in her job was educating customers and the one-on-one relationships with bakery employees. “A lot of the people working in the bakery had similar day-to-day challenges to the students I work with at LMM,” she explains. “I wanted to work more in that capacity, impacting the community by helping people figure out how to make things work in their lives.” Indeed Laura’s teachings encompass far more than knife skills. There is a lot of discussion about relationships with their fellow classmates, with their kids, their families, their demeanor in general.
Laura’s curriculum is meant to be challenging and the first month is spent in the classroom learning about culinary terms, history, sanitation and safety, and especially math, which the students find much more palatable when it is applied to cooking. Her teachings are based on mise en place in both the kitchen and in life.
Months two and three take place in the kitchen and again the instructor is quite demanding of her students. “I tell them all the time that it doesn’t matter where they go to school, it’s what they put into it that will get them on the path they desire,” she says. “There are so many jobs out there; there’s a real need in Cleveland for good cooks.”