Ready for a change, Lavenia Johnson pulled out her smart phone and filled out the online application for The Culinary School right from her desk at a local financial institution.
She says the decision to pull out her phone and apply was one of the best decisions she’s ever made,”It’s so crazy because prior to filling out the application, my co-workers and I went to a psychic. She said I would do something with my hands.”
As a graduate of The Culinary School at the Food Bank of Delaware, she is certainly working with her hands.
After graduation in January 2015, Lavenia worked as a cook at a Wilmington nursing home. The days were long.
“I promised my kids I would look for another position in cooking that would allow me to be home more,” she explained. “I started looking at school districts.”
She applied and submitted a cover letter for every available position.
“You have to sell yourself in these letters,” she explains.
Life skills like resume and cover-letter writing and interviewing are important components of the 12-week curriculum at The Culinary School. “The life skills taught me how to sell myself in a positive way,” she says.
She was hired part-time at Cab Calloway School of the Arts in the Red Clay Consolidated School District in June to begin work at the start of the school year; she continued working at the nursing home to supplement her income.
“It was awesome,” Lavenia says. “I was really excited about it.”
When a lead position became available at H.B. duPont Middle School, Lavenia was encouraged to apply. Hesitant at first since she was still new, she decided to go for it.
“When I got the interview, I sold myself,” she said. “From August to January, I moved from a part-timer to running the kitchen. It’s awesome!”
The school atmosphere is a good fit for Lavenia.
“Everything that I learned at The Culinary School has been helpful and beneficial,” she says.
Lavenia stresses, “It is important to pass the ServSafe. That opens the door. That was a big key with how I got the cook job and the lead job. Those are mandatory requirements.”
Her typical day starts at 6:15 a.m.
“I open the kitchen, turn on the machines, get the breakfast set up,” she explains. “A lot of kids are enrolled in the free breakfast program, so we have to make sure they have hot meal, a fruit and a milk.”
Lavenia’s management experience from the banking industry is also paying off.
“Everything I have ever done plays a major role in my position now,” she points out. “If I never worked in banking as a manager, I wouldn’t have the experience I need to take care of the money from the snack machine and the sales; if I wasn’t in customer service, I wouldn’t be able to work with the staff or kids.”
She encourages others to use their experiences to their advantage, “You never know where it can apply later on. You do have skills.”
For students who are considering The Culinary School, Lavenia advises, “Go for it. If this is your passion, go for it. You don’t have to just work in restaurants. You can use it in other places. There are so many different kitchens. It’s more than just cooking for restaurants. You can still be with your family and do your passion.”
Looking down the road five years from now, Lavenia hopes to be an assistant or regional manager overseeing two to three of the district’s schools.
In the meantime, Lavenia hopes to dispel the connotation of the “lunch lady.”
“I don’t want people to think that of a lunch lady like that. That is definitely not what it is,” she explains. “Ttere is a lot of work that goes into school nutrition. You have to know those grains. We do gluten free, allergies, purees… there are all kinds of kids in school.”
Are you ready for a change? Click here to learn more about The Culinary School at the Food Bank of Delaware!