Culinary student overcomes addiction, looks forward to promising career

April 14, 2017

The Culinary School is the second chance Brooke Hatfield has been looking for.

Life has not always been easy for the mother of four teenage boys.

“Life unfortunately had a lot of twists and turns for me…Poor decision making on my part, but also being a young mother,” she admits.

She left school early and never had the chance to graduate high school.

She went to work when her youngest was three years old. “I developed some skills along the way, but I wasn’t able to get any degrees or even a GED for that matter,” Brooke says.

Substance abuse issues also contributed to a downward spiral in her life.

Brooke is proud to now be in recovery. Hitting rock bottom was the turning point in her struggle with addiction.

“When you get to a point where you get so low in life that you can only look up, you notice every little thing,” she explains. “The light went off when I said, ‘This isn’t who I want to be and this isn’t where I want to be.’ I thought I lost all of my skills and didn’t think that I was going to be able to come out of it. And that’s just that hopelessness that comes with everything.”

Brooke’s children were motivation to enter recovery, and a visit to a local state service center helped Brooke turn things around both personally and professionally.

“I was one of those that would try, but I do have a record, so barriers were put up around me all the time,” she explains. “I started to feel like ‘What am I supposed to do?’ I would go to social services when I needed their assistance and that was great, but I didn’t know how to get off of that. This time around, I was motivated, I was ready to do this. I went in and applied for food stamps and that’s when the worker told me I qualified for Delaware WONDER.”

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.

Brooke filled out the paperwork and chose the culinary track.

“I don’t believe in chance, I believe that everything is for a reason,” she says “This is my opportunity to just full throttle do what I want to do. So that’s what I did. I am a mom of four so of course I have been cooking for a minute, but my dreams are to own a restaurant at some point.”

Now in week nine of the 14 week culinary training program, Brooke is learning a great deal about not only the food service industry, but the life skills needed for success.

Thanks to The Culinary School, Brooke says her future is looking bright. She has signed up to take her GED and is motivated to go to college.

“I hadn’t been in a classroom setting for so long that I didn’t think I could function,” she says. “So when I came in here, and I am getting B’s and A’s, I thought, ‘Okay, Brooke, maybe you can do this.'”

Prior to The Culinary School, she admits to not knowing what a julienne cut was or a mire poix. She says learning these new skills are exciting, especially since she can use them at home.

“We learned how to break a whole chicken down so now I can do my own packs of chicken,” Brooke says.

Stretching her food budget at home is especially important with four teenagers who play sports.

In addition to kitchen skills, Brooke says she is learning to set personal goals.

“[The Culinary School] is giving me the ability to set an example for my kids, and it gave me my self worth back,” she says.

With five weeks to go before graduation Brooke is taking in as much as she can.

Without Delaware WONDER and The Culinary School, Brooke knows she would be running into walls.

“People like me who come from my background, we need direction, we need structure, we need somebody to say this is how you do it. And that’s what Delaware WONDER has done,” she says.

Brooke points out that resources like the Food Bank and WONDER are important for vulnerable populations, as oftentimes individuals do not know where to turn to for help.

She advises others to “don’t give up and keep pushing.”

“This is an opportunity,” she explains. “Everything thus far hasn’t worked out, that’s why we are in this position. This opportunity was given to you for a chance at doing something different.”

Brooke says she continues to be a work in progress. “Just like a baby, we have to crawl and then you can walk,” she points out.

She wants community members to understand that addiction is a disease and we should all judge less.

“It’s a disease… that’s known,” Brooke points out. “A lot of the times we lose our selves in that and we forget who we are and even that we are human… all I can say is we can all relate on some level. I think that addiction comes in many forms. It’s just that this one is very ugly. You have to take the ugliness out of it and realize there is still a person in there… somebody’s mom, sister, brother… that just needs help. We can be retaught.”

Read for a fresh start? The next culinary class in both Newark and Milford begins Monday, June 5. Click here to learn more or to apply! 

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