Chicago's Community Kitchens celebrates 20 years at the Great erChicago Food Depository

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Celebrating 20 years of culinary success, Chicago's Community Kitchens at the Greater Chicago Food Depository held a ceremony for its newest class of graduates Friday. (WLS)

Celebrating 20 years of culinary success, Chicago's Community Kitchens at the Greater Chicago Food Depository held a ceremony for its newest class of graduates Friday.

Families, students and alumni were on hand to celebrate two decades of a program making Chicago Proud. Fourteen weeks of hard work finally complete for the graduates of Chicago's Community Kitchens.

"We see them through the challenges they have in the kitchen, in the classroom and sometimes in their personal lives, so to get them to this point is really meaningful for all of us," said Karmela Galicia, director of Chicago's Community Kitchens, Greater Chicago Food Depository.

The kitchen is a free culinary training program that gives opportunities for those unemployed and underemployed in Cook County to receive hands-on kitchen experience that can lead to jobs in some of Chicago's top restaurants.

For alumni like Corry Simmons, the program is life changing.

"Everything changed. I'm financially stable now, I'm engaged to be married and it's just been a whole 360 in my life," Simmons said.

We first introduced you to Corry after he graduated and taking his first job at Belly Q in the West Loop. Now things have come full circle with Corry now on staff teaching the next generation of chefs at CCK.

"It's a nice experience. Just being able to come back and help the students here and work with them, being a motivation to them and them knowing that I've been through the program and I went through the same things they went through, so it's been fun," Simmons said.

For new graduates like Pam Franklin, it's a chance to hit the restart button and look ahead to a brighter future.

"It was the toughest 14 weeks of my life and it was the most rewarding 14 weeks of my life. It is definitely a life-changing program," Franklin said. "It feels like if I can do, this I can do anything."

Since the program started in 1998, more than 1,200 students have graduated and 90 percent of graduates are currently employed.

That tradition continues with 9 out of 11 of Friday's graduates already set with jobs as they walk out the door.

Congrats to everyone!
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