Clear of high school, Herron tried culinary college but couldn’t afford the books. He worked construction. Then came a charge for dealing drugs, an X on his back, and the best honest work he could get was handing out fliers on street corners.
Until a call came with word of a program in Garfield Park — Inspiration Kitchens — a 13-week training course focused on cooking. Free.
Once Lamont got his shot, he made the most of it:
“I wanted it so bad,” Herron said. “I knew this was my chance. I called them every day until they let me in.”
That was six months ago. Now the 24-year-old has a full-time job at a noodle restaurant on the University of Chicago campus, and he’s a success story for Inspiration Kitchens, a unique program that placed a gourmet restaurant under the “L” tracks on the city’s West Side and turned it into a place of hope for people struggling to find work.
While the issue of how best to help the unemployed and the working poor is the subject of wide-ranging partisan political debate, Inspiration Kitchens boasts a 75 percent job placement rate and a holistic approach to improving the community at large.
During the hectic lunch hour behind the counter of Noodles Etc. in a University of Chicago food court, Herron has to move lightning-fast. But speaking to a visitor in a spacious, dark-wood-paneled university dining hall, he has a chance to reflect:
“I still feel like, ‘Wow.’ I spent two years looking for a job. It just seemed hopeless. Where would I be if I hadn’t gone through that program? I just don’t know.”
Herron looked up for a moment at the vaulted ceiling.
“Now,” he said, “it feels like I have a future.”
From the Chicago Tribune, February 4, 2012.