DC Central Kitchen

MLK Jr. Library Café Trains Young Adults Facing Employment Barriers

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A new café inside the newly remodeled Martin Luther King Jr. Library in downtown D.C. provides on-the-job training to young adults facing barriers to employment.

The men and women making the sandwiches and pouring the coffee at Marianne’s are graduates of a training program run by DC Central Kitchen. It’s one of several training programs DC Central Kitchen offers.

“It’s actually been amazing,” employee Mishayla Valle said. “So, once you graduate, we do an internship.”

The program Valle graduated from is aimed at young people between 18 and 24 who need a little help getting started. While most associate DC Central Kitchen with food outreach, CEO Mike Curtin says that’s not its only mission.

“The focus of what we do is training, working with individuals who have faced immense barriers to employment like histories of incarceration, addiction, abuse, homelessness or other trauma to get jobs in hospitality industry,” he said.

“Being with DC Central Kitchen, I’m more stable now,” Valle said.

Ronald Taylor graduated from a different program DC Central Kitchen offers six years ago.

“I got into a little trouble in the streets,” he said. “I got on probation. I asked my probation have they ever heard of DC Central Kitchen, she wrote me a sponsor letter, and I haven’t looked back since.”

DC Central Kitchen has another social enterprise café inside the Arc in Southeast, and a third is being built in the Southwest waterfront

“Over the years we’ve graduated over 2,000 individuals, most of whom are employed at hotels, restaurants, caterers around the city,” Curtin said.

At the library, the café seems to fit right in.

“Not only is it great from the perspective of fresh food and delicious coffee but also from the mission alignment with library,” D.C. Public Library Executive Director Richard Reyes-Gavilan said.

Taylor and Valle look forward to being part of DC Central Kitchen for a while.

“I already love what they do with the community, and so I would love to be part of that for the rest of my life as well,” Valle said.

“I got so much experience with them and learned a lot and I shared a lot,” Taylor said.

Marianne’s is named after chef Marianne Ali, who spent two decades at DC Central Kitchen as a leader and mentor to many who took inspiration from her. She died in 2017.

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