Turning Disaster into Opportunity with CKA

Photo of Viviana in the kitchen.

In late summer of 2011, Viviana’s life changed almost instantly. She lost her small business. Then, Tropical Storm Irene flooded her home. Out of work with a severely damaged home, she reached out to Capstone Community Action for help.

“When I needed heating assistance and more food, I could access these services. Capstone literally became my life boat,” explains Viviana.

While working with Capstone staff, Viviana saw a sign for the Community Kitchen Academy (CKA), an intensive twelve-week job training program that prepares underemployed or unemployed Vermonters for careers in the food industry. This Vermont Foodbank program operates in partnership with Capstone Community Action in Barre. Students develop and apply culinary skills to rescue food that would otherwise go to waste, and create meals, which are then distributed through Capstone’s food shelf. Graduates can earn certifications and up to nine college-level academic credits. That’s when she began to see an opportunity in a disastrous situation.

As a child, Viviana loved to cook. Her grandmother and mother taught her traditional Mexican and southern style dishes. Dishes she taught her own daughter. Although cooking gave her confidence, Viviana never thought she could build a career out of cooking. She enrolled in the next CKA class.

For years, friends told Viviana to sell her salsa, a family recipe passed down from her grandmother. Now she began to imagine repairing her home with a commercial kitchen and starting a business to sell her salsa.

As a CKA student, she developed her culinary skills during the day. At night, she would practice by taking the temperature of food to make sure it was cooked appropriately to meet FDA regulations.

Upon graduating from CKA, Viviana worked for NECI at National Life Group and then as a chef for Goddard College. Viviana kept rising. Then a fall at home left her with a broken arm and without a job again.

Instead of giving up, she used that time to continue to learn and grow her cooking skills. After her arm healed, she accepted a position as Lead Dinner Chef at Vermont College of Fine Arts where she’s thriving.

Meanwhile, Viviana has not lost sight of her dream – launching her salsa and enchilada sauce business. She is completing a commercial kitchen in her home and creating a business plan with Capstone’s Business Coach.

“I needed the help to get back on my feet. I’m proud and confident about overcoming these obstacles. I’m moving forward in a positive way.”

Viviana is one of 139 graduates of Community Kitchen Academy, Barre since 2013. Her experience embodies the missions of the Vermont Foodbank and Capstone Community Action. We help individuals stabilize in times of crises, advocate for themselves and transform their lives. Innovative programs like Community Ki