Charla Walls is a graduate of class 16 of Kitchens for Good’s Project Launch, a culinary apprenticeship program that trains individuals who experience significantly high unemployment rates—including formerly incarcerated adults, transitioning foster youth, survivors of domestic violence, individuals experiencing mental illness and individuals with histories of substance abuse—to launch their career in the culinary and hospitality industry.
Charla shared her story at the graduation ceremony earlier this year. The following has been edited for style and brevity:
Prior to coming to Kitchens for Good, life for me has been challenging to say the least. It has been difficult for me to find a job and let alone keep one.
You see, I’m a three-time convicted felon, and I have served three prison sentences spanning seven years of my life. But it feels like I have spent the last 20 years of my life in prison because I haven’t been able to live life to the fullest potential.
I got out of prison and returned home to my family. My mindset was that I would get me a job and go to college. Life was going to be amazing because all that was behind me. Little did I know it wasn’t going to be that easy.
So many doors were shut in my face, denial after denial. All I wanted was another chance but my past was like a plague that just followed me. No one would hire a three-time convicted felon. I spent many hours and days on the internet searching and filling out applications and never a call back for an interview.
I just wanted to prove to myself that I was no longer that person. I had changed. Finally, the chance I was looking for came in the form of Kitchens for Good, a culinary apprenticeship program. It all sounded so good. I must’ve looked at every detail of information on their website. I was excited and feeling like this could be it.
I began to feel hopeful. I couldn’t wait to tell my family. After I talked it over with my husband—no, I didn’t even wait on his input—I went all in. I put my application in and patiently waiting for a response was painful, until one day I got the call for an interview, and was thrilled to get in.
Through Kitchens for Good, my past eventually became irrelevant, and it became all about my future. Of course I learned how to cook in this program, but what really set me on the right path was the soft skills.
At first, I sat through those classes HATING every minute of it. I thought “I came here to cook—why do we have to talk about our feelings?!?” But I quickly learned that I was standing in my own way. These labels and message of “you can’t” were holding me back. I realized I had to deal with these deep insecurities, my attitude, and my behavior, in order to not just get a job, but keep a job.
This class taught me so much about responsibility and ownership. I finished this class now as a woman who was responsible, confident and loving of myself. At Kitchens for Good they talk a big talk at the beginning of the class. But I began to see everything they promised began to unfold.
After completing a 12-week course here at Kitchens for Good, I was given an opportunity to do my internship at Guahan Grill where I worked with a former Kitchens for Good graduate, Becky. Becky taught me a lot. More importantly she reminded me how to remain humble and not be too proud to start at the bottom.
The greatest part is hearing my daughters ask me, “Momma, you going to work?” and seeing them all walk me to the door with hugs and kisses. All their lives I wanted them to see mommy productive, to be a role model they could look up to. I am happy to say I now am.
When I got here, I was doubtful that they could really live up to the promises of a better future. But I now believe it…This program truly does help to change lives. They live up to their promises, and they don’t leave anyone hanging.
If I had to name one thing I got out of this experience, although there are many, it would be a new sense of confidence. I now believe in myself and my past bad choices are no longer a hindrance to me, they are just my past. My future is now bright—I can clearly visualize myself growing in the field. To me the title doesn’t mean anything; what matters is being an incredible asset to the team.
Kitchens for Good is a funded partner of the San Diego Workforce Partnership.