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Liberty’s Kitchen on the road to providing New Orleans youth with skills to build successful futures

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IntheNOLA has been a patron of Liberty’s Kitchen (300 N. Broad St. and 1615 Poydras St.) for several years and every time we walk in to get breakfast or lunch, we are always so proud of the work that they are doing to provide our youth with a “home” and much needed direction.
For those of you who haven’t been to Liberty’s Kitchen yet, the organization works with vulnerable New Orleans youth from 16-24 years old “to help them create and achieve their vision of success. This population of New Orleanians is often referred to as ‘disconnected’ – out of school and out of work, and facing societal challenges that make it difficult for them to thrive. Liberty’s Kitchen strives to help these young people realize their full potential through a combination of workforce training, life skills, and leadership development programming.”
With its signature Youth Development Program, Liberty’s Kitchen “combines hands-on food service training with classroom instruction, individual case management, job placement services, and follow-up support. In addition, the program addresses the many issues that create barriers to self-sufficiency with wrap-around support including health care, mental health, housing, GED completion, parenting issues, and financial literacy. All aspects of the innovative Youth Development Program are developing a participant’s ability to become independent and self-sufficient – and of course, successfully employed. Students graduate from Liberty’s Kitchen with the life and employability skills necessary to succeed in work.”

Executive Director David Emond is hands on with the participants in the program. While many top-level administrators may be removed from the daily doings of an organization, David is right there with his students, laughing, talking, calling them by name, and showing them that he is in their corner.
“Liberty’s Kitchen exists because we believe every young person is uniquely gifted and deserves a chance to succeed,” he explained. “Unfortunately, many of the institutions that should exist to support the development of young people have failed. Liberty’s Kitchen succeeds in this important work because we notice young people for their potential, we believe in their desire to be successful, and we commit to learn from them at least as much as they learn from us.”
David continued, “In addition to our café at 300 N. Broad St. next to Whole Foods, in May, we recently opened a new location at 1615 Poydras St. The new cafeteria feeds people who work in the building and is also open to the public for breakfast and lunch, Monday through Friday. The new location will increase Liberty’s Kitchen’s capacity to serve more youth in our workforce-training program as well as provide access to ‘next level’ training for graduates in our new Career Track program. This month, we are also wrapping up construction of our new Youth Leadership Center, a 6,000 square foot space to support additional programming and accommodate more young people.”

To continue to further its mission, on September 15, Liberty’s Kitchen will hold its seventh annual fundraiser, Come Grow With Us (which just recently sold out!), at the Ace Hotel (600 Carondelet St.), where restauranteur Jeff Gulotta will be honored with the 2017 Youth Advocate Award.
“Liberty’s Kitchen is such an amazing program and I’m incredibly happy to be a part of it,” said Jeff, owner and partner at Maypop and MoPho. “The most important advice that I can give to the students at Liberty’s Kitchen is to always show up and be on time. We’re shaping the next generation and they’re heir to this historic legacy of New Orleans food and food ways.”  

In addition to Chef Jeff Gulotta, two graduates of the Youth Development Program, Nadja Sampson (pictured above) and Da’Mon “Tumma” Keelen (pictured below), will also be honored. “Nadja is an incredible young woman who we consider to be a shining example of our Youth Development Program in how she just personifies resilience,” explained Dennis Bagneris, Director of Youth Success at Liberty’s Kitchen. “In the face of new opportunities and challenges, even in recognizing her own fears, she continues to push through, regardless of personal and professional challenges, always inspired to do better and be better.”

He continued, “Tumma is a young man driven to create the most successful version of himself. He strives not only to excel personally, but also to support his peers’ development. He’s a born leader and exudes all the qualities that this program would want to see personified in a young adult and mentor.”

Graduate and honoree Nadja Sampson finished the program in March 2016. “At Liberty’s Kitchen, I’ve learned skills that have helped me throughout my life,” she said. “Sometimes, it was challenging to open up, but I never felt like quitting. Liberty’s Kitchen gives an opportunity to those who might not think they have opportunities left. If college or anything wasn’t their plan or some things get postponed, they have this program to continue on goals they set originally.”

Graduate and honoree Da’Mon “Tumma” Keelen finished in May 2016. “For people who don’t have support or need a little more support, you have people at Liberty’s Kitchen who will be there for you,” explained Da’Mon. “It’s basically another family for people who need one and a support system through every step of the way. They let us be ourselves while nurturing who we are and figuring out what we need. At the end of the day, it’s about bettering yourself for the future.”
Although tickets to the fundraiser are sold out, you can support Liberty’s Kitchen throughout the year by patroning their two cafes, attending their monthly Guest Chef Night’s dinners, and donating to the program.
Executive Director David Emond conclusion last year is just as relevant this year: “Our youth are our future, and the investment of time, talent, and treasure we make in them today will reap huge dividends not only in their lives, but for us all.”
For more information about Liberty’s Kitchen, please visit the website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages. 
Last modified on Friday, 15 September 2017
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