Dawud Abdul-Wakil has always loved to cook. When he was little, his friends would be playing outside, but he wanted to be in the kitchen with grandma. At 19, he enrolled in a culinary program, but he was young, and couldn’t keep his focus. Since then he has worked in a wide variety of jobs, many within the food industry. But over the years there were troubles and mistakes made.
At 40, Dawud found himself separated from his family, homeless and in a dark, negative place. Then through the Arlington Education Center, he heard of an opportunity for a scholarship with La Cocina VA (LCVA). “That day changed my life!” said Dawud, “It was like I could at last see a light at the end of the tunnel.” Now mid-way through the training program, in a class with students from all over the world of different ages and backgrounds, he has found a supportive place to grow. “Everyone is so welcoming. It’s a very positive vibe here. The staff and my classmates motivate me - we encourage one another - if they can do this, so can I.”
Through many years of restaurant work, Dawud developed useful skills, but he was never able to move up. Now he is getting the industry certification to do so and welcomes the responsibility. “Here I’m getting a Food Manager Certification, which is good for five years, that’s serious!” Dawud affirms that it’s not just more culinary skills he’s acquiring, but learning overall life skills and reshaping his priorities that’s really making a difference. It takes openness and hard work, but he is ‘learning how to be successful…. I’m changing who I used to be, to who I want to become.”
Now Dawud is part of a team, he and his classmates are preparing meals for those in shelters and low-income housing, a part of LCVA’s food assistance program that distributes 12,000 meals annually. They are also creating healthy food for inhabitants of the Residential Program Center in Arlington, VA which is the homeless shelter where Dawud currently lives. “It feels so good to be able to do this, to help those who really need it.” There are people with a lot of problems, who have lost so much, and a good meal at the end of the day means a lot to them.
Dawud hopes to one day get into management in the food industry. He dreams of educating children on the importance of healthy eating and opening up a restaurant of his own. After so many years, he’s back on track, “This is me. This is what I love to do!”