SACRAMENTO – With two jobs and five kids, local mother Ebony Price has a lot on her plate. Fortunately, she seems to have found the recipe for success and self-sufficiency.
Ms. Price, 29, is a graduate of the Plates Employment Training Program. Through the program, formerly homeless mothers who have stayed at the St. John’s Shelter Program for Women and Children, learn skills related to the culinary service industries. After finishing the program, they are qualified for positions in the culinary, retail and hospitality industries. Most are placed in jobs.
Ms. Price shares that in 2010 she was fresh out of jail and had again lost her children behind her drug addiction. A friend suggested she go to St. John’s.
“That’s one of the best moves I’ve ever made,” she said.
Ms. Price spent four months in the program, working as a cook at the Plates Cafe and Catering restaurant. She would later get her GED.
“I’d never had a real job,” she said.
She said that she worked as a teenager, but nothing that amounted to any true skills.
The program at St. John’s, Ms. Price said, gave her and others the confidence they lacked, having gone through the various life experiences that brought them to the shelter. She credits Executive Chef and Culinary Trainer Chef Stu Edgecomb for being encouraging.
“He treats us like we’re human, not like we’re nothing,” she said.
The employment-training program is voluntary.
Elizabeth Morain, the Shelter’s Development Support Specialist said that while participating, the women’s primary expenses—food, shelter, child care and transportation—are taken care of.
“They typically receive benefits from CalWorks or other government programs, which cover incidentals. Our case managers work with them to learn good budget and financial habits. Upon completion of the Plates program, and our other employment training program, First Steps, we assist them in securing employment.
“Ninety-three percent of our volunteer learners have been placed in employment after graduation,” Ms. Morain shared.
The employment training program currently has 30 volunteer learners. The women live at the shelter or at Greenway Village – its supportive housing program.
While at either, they receive free GED services, tutoring, career counseling, case management, mental health services, child care and a variety of life skills classes. They can stay at the shelter for up to 120 days and at Greenway Village for up to 18 months.
Christina Coulter, who works in the front of the house at Plates Cafe and Catering says being homeless was a humbling experience. The single mother became unemployed in 2012 and her savings soon dwindled. She considered living in her car or a hotel. She says David DeLuz, the president of the Greater Sacramento Urban League, whom she’d met through a welfare-to-work program, suggested St. John’s. Having heard horror stories about shelters from other women, she cringed at the thought.
“It was very scary. For me, it was the last option I would have chosen,” she added.
Ms. Coulter said the environment and the support she found there changed her mind.
At Plates, Ms. Coulter works as a hostess, server, busser and cashier. Although her duties place her in direct contact with customers, she describes herself as “behind the scenes kind of gal.”
While Ms. Coulter doesn’t see a future in the restaurant business, she says she’s obtained skills that will serve her well in future career endeavors.
“It’s made me so much more compassionate,” Ms. Coulter shared.
Ms. Price says her experience at Plates changed her entire outlook.
“It feels good,” she said.
“I like going in there and saying, ‘here’s my rent’ or paying my SMUD bill. I don’t mind doing it,” she continued.
Being able to handle both without anyone’s help, she says, feels even better.
Today, Ms. Price works as a cook at Original Po Boys in Oak Park and the Center at 2300 in the Arden area. Ms. Price will soon be leaving one of those jobs to take a full-time position as Kitchen Manager at Plates2Go, the restaurant program’s new takeout business. Plates2Go is slated to open in Midtown on May 1.
Ms. Price also takes on odd jobs whenever she can. It’s all for her kids, she says.
“I’m working to give them what I couldn’t give them before.”
Just seeing her going to work every day, she says, gives them something she couldn’t before.
“I think they’re pretty proud of me; I’m proud of me,” Ms. Price stated.
By Genoa Barrow
OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer