Every new year means making promises to yourself that you won’t keep because you’ll be able to do it all again next year. Unless you’re a felon trying to make a new start. Ask any one of the nine ladies who graduated from the TEEM OKC Culinary Arts Program last week and you’ll find that New Year’s resolutions hold a much greater weight. For them, a new start isn’t cheap; it’s a second chance to become the person you want to be.
TEEM (The Education and Employment Ministry) has been helping former inmates create new lives since 1987. Aly Branstetter, co-owner of Hillbilly’s (you remember badass Aly) heard about the program through Robyn Dumas, aka OKC Foodie. Robyn has worked with TEEM in the past and after hearing about the program, she had to loop Aly in. Together, they crafted an amazing celebration for the graduates; a meal courtesy of Hillbilly’s, and a motivational Q&A with Chef Norm.
As Robyn and I set the table at Hillbilly’s with decorations and red stirring spoons, I wondered about these nine women, some of whom were finishing their prison sentences, all of whom were graduating from the Culinary Arts Program: Who are they? What are they like? What are their backstories? Can I ask them about that? Duh, don’t ask them about that, that’s rude. Needless to say, I was really excited.
I asked them about the program, what they learned, what they wanted to take away from it all, and what their favorite meals to cook are. It wasn’t difficult to get them talking, every one of them was eager to share how grateful they are for the TEEM Culinary Arts Program. Alisha talked about the amazing opportunity to learn and how she’s excited that people are willing to give her a second chance. Monica talked about the teamwork they learned through working together in the kitchen. Shawn told me how she’s inspired to become the best woman she can be for her family and for herself.
As we ate and listened to Chef Norm give advice, I could tell that every woman was proud to be there. Each one had made mistakes, but each one had new direction and passion instilled in them through TEEM. It won’t be long until they’re taking their skills into the kitchens of OKC, creating a new life for themselves and making our city better.