Newsmaker Making A Difference: Corry Simmons, Chicago's Community Kitchens

Lisa Fielding
September 11, 2018 - 7:40 am

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Inside a giant kitchen in the back of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, dozens of cooks are in training.

"Are you smashing them down?" asked Corry Simmons, Production Assistant, Chicago's Community Kitchens.

Simmons works with new recruits in Chicago's Community Kitchens. He was a trainee himself several years ago after he admits, he was headed on the wrong path.

"I was really struggling with employment before I came here. I was out in the street hustlin' everyday trying to make a dollar. I decided that I didn't want to live that lifestyle anymore," he said.

So Simmons learned about CCK through his youth pastor.  The 14-week job training program prepares students who are unemployed, underemployed or looking for a better life.

"Students come in. We give them the basics on how to work in the kitchen. They learn everything they need on a basic level so they can go out and get employment," he said.

The class meets four days a week, Tuesday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.

"We help them with their life skills, we help them with culinary math, sanitation and things like that," Simmons said.

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

Demetrius Bibbs is one of them. He's an ex-con, who spent time in jail for drugs. Now, he's starting to turn his life around for him and his newborn son.

"I made a couple of mistake,s but now I'm on the right path with my second chance. I'm here to show people I can succeed," Bibbs said.

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

"It empowers people who've been chronically unemployed or they have previous failures in their life. It gives them a chance to build new skills and really gain some new found confidence and be successful," said Nicole Robinson, Vice President, Community Impact, Chicago's Community Kitchen.

Now in it's 20th year, Community Kitchens has seen 1,200 graduates, many working successfully in the culinary industry.

"The food industry is a forgiving industry that regardless of your background, you can start at the bottom and move your way up. We've seen the growth and potential of all of our students," she said. "From Hot Chocolate to Urban Belly, to hospitals to food service organizations, we are really proud of the program and the success that we've been able to achieve in partnership with the students."

Robinson said students spend 12 weeks in the kitchen and then participate in a 2 week internship. CCK has a 90 percent placement rate and a 70 percent retention rate. 

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

After his graduation, Simmons interned at Belly Q for 2 years. Now he's returned to the place that he said gave him his second chance.

"I never thought I'd be giving back to the community, but it's become my passion. This program changed my life," he laughed.

"Corry is one of our finest success stories because he's from North Lawndale. He's had his own personal challenges and he graduated. He was extremely successful at his internship. He wanted to come back here because he was personally transformed by this program and he wanted to go back into the community and share with others his story and encourage other young men to join and to show them that there's a different path and open them up to the idea of the Chicago Community Kitchen's program," Robinson said.

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

Chicago's Community Kitchens serves lunch every day for employees of the Food Depository and takes in a new batch of students each month.

"They learn knife skills, food safety, they learn how to prepare different types of dishes, they learn how a commercial kitchen operates. Lots of life skills come along with it, how to write a resume, they learn about teamwork. The students inspire each other and they want to see each other succeed,"  Robinson said.

"It's more than just cooking. It's mental too. It's discipline," Simmons said. "I had a lot of felonies on my background and it was hard for me to find a job. This gave me a second chance at life."

For more information, visit www.chicagosfoodbank.org/chicagos-community-kitchens

As WBBM celebrates its 50th anniversary as Newsradio, this year we’ll be honoring 50 Newsmakers making a difference in the community.  Listen for reports each Tuesday.

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