Just off the Conservatory-Central Park Drive stop on the Green Line, this contemporary American restaurant, settled right in between the Garfield Park Conservatory and the Garfield Park Lagoons, is unlike any other fast-food chains or fine-dining establishments in the Chicagoland area.
Inspiration Kitchens is a non-for-profit restaurant that trains and assists those who are struggling with poverty and homelessness, helping them locate permanent employment and get back on their feet.
According to Inspiration Kitchens’ main website, the parent organization of this establishment, Inspiration Corporation, was founded by a former Chicago Police Officer Lisa Nigro in 1989. Nigro first started this organization with the belief that food could be used to be the driving force to change the lives of those who are homeless or struggling with other barriers. With that idea in mind, the corporation expanded into various branches such as Inspiration Cafe and Inspiration Corporation’s housing service, which provides nutritious meals and housing respectively to those participating in the training programs around the city.
Inspiration Kitchens, to be more specific, trains participants for free in a 12 week culinary training program that teaches them various culinary skills, making them viable for job opportunities in the food industry.
They are taught food safety and sanitation, learning how to stock and clean industrial kitchens and management.
“The program is designed so adults with barriers to employment can develop culinary skills and access permanent work opportunities,” said Mackenzie Canfield, the employment preparation and placement specialist at Inspiration Kitchens.
Canfield continued and said that her job specializes in “working with students who are approaching the end of the program and are preparing to start job searching.”
DeMico Davis, participant support specialist at the organization, discussed some of the obstacles that many of the students face while working in the program. “Barriers is the term, I think…We work with individuals experiencing homelessness. We work with individuals who are coming out of prison and re-entering citizens. We work with individuals who in a low income situation just in a general sense. We work with individuals who have other barriers, maybe such as a learning disability or have a physical disability, or mental health struggles and challenges as well,” Davis said.
Canfield said she also helps students prepare their resumes and cover letters. “We know employers are looking for employees with specialized training,” Canfield said.
Not only does she connect them to many potential employers in the Chicago area, but she also makes sure these potential listings are opportunities that they will be happy and comfortable with.
“The great thing about Inspiration Kitchens is that as soon as someone completes the twelve week program, their access to jobs searches and those sort of resources here are indefinite,” Canfield said.
Crystal White, a student at Inspiration Kitchen, is close to graduating from the program. “Once you get into tune with the basics of the classroom and the kitchen, it gets a little more competitive and hands-on, so it helps guide you to the front line of when you start to do kitchen work,” White said.
Another great benefit that ties the outlying communities to Inspiration Kitchens is the opportunity to volunteer. When the organization first started in 1989, it was primarily a volunteer-run organization, and that tradition lives on today. Volunteers can cook and serve meals at Inspiration Cafe, tutor potential participants and job seekers, conduct mock job interviews for soon-to-be graduates or graduates of the community, tend to the garden at Inspiration Kitchens and much much more.
Some of the other benefits the organization provides to its participants the people in the public do not see includes a boat load of emotional support. Those who come into Inspiration Kitchens have experienced difficult obstacles and barriers that have halted their livelihoods. Not only do the students have a full support system with the Inspiration Kitchens staff standing behind them, they have those resources there in front of them, pushing them to succeed.
“We believe in you, we believe in you, we believe in you,” Canfield reiterated when asked about the support system present in the training environment. “We want them to succeed, and they best succeed when they know there are people here who are always there for them.”
And it is not only Canfield and the Inspiration Kitchens staff that helps their students out, sometimes, it is their students helping them too.
“The participants have made me laugh, cry and smile,” Canfield said. “I teach them and they teach me.”
When catering, dining or ordering from Inspiration Kitchens, one might not realize the support he or she is providing to the men and women training in the kitchens. Any support given to this establishment allows these participants the building blocks to overcome poverty and homelessness in order to climb upward toward a better and brighter future.