Lenny McClain doesn’t believe that luck helped land him a spot at The Culinary School at the Food Bank of Delaware. It was meant to be.
After serving an almost 13-year prison stint in Pennsylvania, Lenny was released and given permission to move to Middletown to stay with family.
“When I came out here, I knew it was necessary for me to get on my feet, so I went to the Department of Labor not only looking for a job, but looking for an opportunity to go back to school so I could find a career,” he explains.
Lenny’s original plan was to attend school at Delaware Technical and Community College, but while at the Department of Labor he learned about the opportunity to attend The Culinary School from another office visitor.
“One of the gentleman in the room pulled me aside after he heard me tell my story,” Lenny explains. “He wanted to cut hair and not culinary arts. He went to a seminar where a former TCS program manager was the presenter…uniforms for free, don’t have to pay out of pocket.”
Lenny felt it was a good fit especially since it would not require him to take out a loan and incur debt to further his education.
He was able to secure funding for The Culinary School thanks to the Delaware WONDER program.
Delaware WONDER (Work Opportunity Networks to Develop Employment Readiness) is led by Delaware Health and Social Services Division of Social Services (DHSS), which administers the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Program in Delaware. It offers targeted career tracks in construction, culinary arts, manufacturing and broad-based job placement.
The Culinary School has been exactly what Lenny needed. “The family setting, dealing with people, dealing with relationships and the styles of teaching have been very valuable for me,” he says.
Lenny has a passion for serving others. “I won’t say that I have an extensive background in it [food preparation], but I am a quick learner and I enjoy food. In any way that I can help, whether it’s serving you food, serving you a drink, it’s something that I enjoy,” he points out.
For Lenny, food is more than just nourishment for the body, it’s nourishment for the soul.
“Food is about ministering over my faith and belief in life… it’s about serving. When you look at food, that’s the bridge to really getting to know someone,” he says.
Lenny is thankful that both Executive Chef Tim Hunter and Chef Instructor Donnie Stephens have made him feel like part of the team.
“When I interviewed with Chef Tim he told me my past is something I will realize that many people in this industry have already been through. Chef Donnie really embraced me and helped me out. When I needed a ride, he was there for me. My story is a lot of people’s story.”
Lenny looks forward to graduating with his fellow classmates on Thursday, May 25. He has already been offered employment at Saladworks and Tom Foolery’s Restaurant, both are in Middletown and just 10 minutes from his home.
Lenny has advice for other potential students, and he hopes his story will inspire others.
“There are so many opportunities that I had in life where I could have made more money. I know there are other jobs where I can make more money, but that’s not where my passion lies. That’s my advice… to recognize where their passion is and to follow it,” he advises.
Lenny admits he has made mistakes in life, but he is determined to not let his past dictate his future.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step,” he says. “The moment that you start doing the right thing, you can also look back on everything that you have done wrong and take pieces of it and use it for your future. And that is something I have done. Everything that I have done wrong in life, I look back on it not to feel guilty, not to brag about it, but to learn from it. That’s the thing in life. It tells us that all things work together for our good.”
Five years from now Lenny hopes to have advanced in the culinary field. Managing, training and learning different inventory processes are all of interest to Lenny. Down the road he hopes to open his own breakfast restaurant, enabling him to spend evenings with his family.
The future is bright for Lenny and he is thankful for his second chance. He hopes that other young men and women who are struggling can learn from his story.
“I want to say that no matter what they are going through in life, there is always a possibility of bouncing back to be resilient,” he advises. I want to let the kids know no matter what they are going through… if they find that passion, that desire to do something that they are able to become the very thing they want to be.”
Ready for a second chance? Click here to learn more about The Culinary School at the Food Bank of Delaware.