Final feast marks feats of program's graduates

Seven complete a local group's course that fosters skills in and out of the kitchen


Sheryle Carter followed through on something for the first time in her life yesterday.

The 44-year-old graduated from a culinary program and marked her eight-month anniversary in transitional housing after being drug-free for a year. "I've never completed anything. I've completed this," Carter said. "Nobody else has to be proud of me, because I am proud of myself."

Nearly 50 family members, friends and supporters gathered yesterday to celebrate Carter and six other graduates of Moveable Feast's Culinary Arts and Life Skills Training Program.

The program - housed at St. Benedict Church on Wilkens Avenue in Southwest Baltimore - aims to help people who want to change their lives and acquire job skills, said Vic Basile, Moveable Feast's executive director.

The Moveable Feast kitchen prepares 600 meals that the organization provides daily to those with HIV or breast cancer, while also delivering groceries. The 12-week culinary training program has graduated 72 students. The cooking class started in 2003 at the suggestion of the Abell Foundation and now receives funding from the foundation and several other groups, Basile said.

Changing lives

Many students say the program changed their lives. "I came to this class with a lot of hard turmoil in my life," said class valedictorian Ryan Bates, 25, in a speech. "For the first time in my life, I went day for day, and I didn't quit."

Bates said he has battled drug addiction since he was 15. When he got out of jail recently, he lasted only a month before landing in the hospital because of his habit. It was "now or never," he said. When his aunt told him about the culinary program, which his uncle read about in the newspaper, he knew it was for him.

"I haven't missed a day," Bates said. To graduate, students must attend 90 percent of their classes. Bates' attendance was one of the reasons Vincent Williams, the operations director for Moveable Feast, hired the valedictorian to begin work in the kitchen Monday.

Bates isn't the only graduate starting a new job next week. Martin Williamson, 46, has been hired to work for Classic Catering, and several other graduates have interviews with that company.

Williamson is excited to be back in the kitchen. After several back surgeries, he has been unable to do any serious cooking since 1995.

Moveable Feast requires that students be hired to work in jobs where they receive benefits and are paid above minimum wage. Each graduate must pass the ServSafe food safety certification from the National Restaurant Association, as well as learn CPR and first aid.

Tanya Gibson, 46, has been cooking for more than a decade. She said one of her counselors at Marian House, a transitional facility for recovering addicts where she lives, recommended Gibson do the program because she appeared to be at peace in the kitchen. Gibson said what she is learning in the kitchen is fueling her recovery.

By contrast, Wanda Crawford, 46, had worked in a kitchen but never really cooked. "I thought I couldn't make it," Crawford said. "Even my daughter didn't think I could make it this far."

Impressive abilities

The administrators at Moveable Feast said they have been particularly impressed with the group's teamwork and abilities. "Five out of seven can cook circles around local restaurants," Williams said.

Ashli Parker, 18, was there to watch her mother, April Grady, 38, graduate. Grady has been on disability since 1997. She has systemic lupus erythematosus and has had two hip replacements.

"She's going to have to give me some of those recipes," Parker said after partaking in yesterday's feast, which included honey baked ham, beef Wellington, rice pilaf, shrimp scampi, pumpkin pie and cheesecake.

Administrators at Moveable Feast were disappointed that one of their brightest cooks, Harry Calloway, was unable to graduate after being picked up on an outstanding warrant.

But without Calloway, the class still had many leaders, and it was hard for the school to choose the best.

"Ryan showed a rare ability to learn and teach," Williams said. "He has a humbleness about him and a very quiet confidence."

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