“I heard a great joke the other day. ‘What did the Zen master say to the hot dog vendor? Make me one with everything.’”
– Abi Weber
What’s Cooking in Uptown and Garfield Park? Inspiration. If you’ve ever dined at Inspiration Kitchens, you know that, at these restaurants, eating out is a lot more meaningful than just taking a night off from doing dishes. Inspiration Kitchens are not only restaurants that serve delicious food; they are also part of a food service training program that offers “skill-specific job training and employment placement in an atmosphere of dignity and respect to people facing barriers to self-sufficiency.” While your meal fuels you, the money you spend fuels the Inspiration Kitchens training program that changes lives.
And the good does not stop there. Inspiration Kitchens are part of a larger organization, Inspiration Corporation, which assists individuals who are affected by homelessness and poverty in finding employment, housing and other resources, all within an environment that is supportive and respectful. Eleanor Mulshine and Abi Weber, two employees at Inspiration Corporation, cannot say enough good things about the work they are part of in Chicago. As a Resource Specialist and Trainer, respectively, Mulshine and Weber told me about how lucky they feel to find inspiration so easily at work everyday.
What is your favorite thing about Inspiration Corporation?
Mulshine (left above): The environment. It really makes me want to come to work everyday. It is such a casual but motivating environment that it challenges me in ways that some other places might not.
Weber (right above): I would agree with Eleanor, I think among the staff there’s a really strong community feeling and among participants [individuals engaged in programming]. The whole place is based on building relationships. The more I build positive relationships with participants, the more I’m doing my job correctly.
Eleanor, you help people find housing and other resources. What are some of the challenges of your job?
Mulshine: Helping people to find housing is one of the biggest challenges. There are a lot of barriers people face (having even just one eviction is not good for landlords to see, having criminal backgrounds, having no income). Anyone would want to get into housing quickly, but if you don’t have an income, it takes more time. Some people are more able to accept that fact. I cannot imagine myself willing to accept that. I can’t imagine depending on a friend for housing or staying in a shelter. Neither option sounds like a great experience. I admire the people who withstand a variety of circumstances.
Abi, as a Trainer, what does your position entail?
Weber: As a trainer, I run our four-week employment preparation program at Inspiration Corporation. It’s not just resumes and cover letters. Not at all. It’s about trying to help people realize the power that they already have so they can be successful in interviews and in the job search. Trying to bring out that confidence in people. A lot of what prevents people from getting jobs is their not believing they are capable of it. So we run a very therapeutic four-week workshop to help people see the world differently. The focus is on mindfulness. We use meditation and affirmations as a technique for becoming more positive and for expanding one’s worldview. When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
Do you have a favorite story from the participants you’ve worked with?
Mulshine: In September, there was a participant who had just gotten into subsidized housing. She had been waiting a long time, as most people do, and she was working on employment, but at that point she hadn’t found it. She had gotten this great apartment and she needed a bed. That’s the thing about getting into housing: it’s really great, but if you get an empty apartment and no income, what are you going to do? We talked about using the emergency funds, but they ran out really quickly, so we had to try again[…] I think it took two months to get it. She was just so happy. I couldn’t believe the smile on her face. Every time she comes into my office, she comes in beaming. “Hello Everyone!” It makes me so happy to see her. She is so thankful. She says thank you to the entire office. She is an example of someone who persisted, an even though it didn’t work out the first time. That’s what it takes—persistence to get through these processes that take so much paperwork and communication.
Weber: My favorite story is about a woman who I started working with in October, who had a lot of challenging circumstances (addiction and incarceration) and she actually was living in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit, so she had to deal with that as well. She came back to Chicago with her husband and she started [working towards employment at Inspiration Corporation] in October. […] She got a job a few months ago at a restaurant as a busser and she is working to pass the server test. She really enjoys the position. I met with her a few weeks ago. She has a few felony convictions try to get a Governor’s Pardon. We went downtown for the hearing and I spoke on her behalf. The whole prisoner review board was so impressed by her. It could take years to see if the governor signs off, but it was really exciting to see how everyone saw how she has turned around. She wants to have her own restaurant some day—Cajun Soul food.
Mulshine: At graduation, she brought in her own dish. Cajun. It was so good. She is so warm. I could see her owning a restaurant.
Anything you’d like to add?
Weber: As a woman who is working on building my career right now, one great thing about Inspiration Corporation is that there are so many mentorship opportunities. There are also a lot of women who work here. One thing that is cool: although women make up the majority of direct service providers in social work, they are a minority of CEOs. But all of our leadership is female. Our executive director is a woman.
To volunteer with Inspiration Corporation, fill out their form here. Visit the Inspiration Corporation website to make a donation or to learn more. And to enjoy a great meal that gives back, visit Inspiration Kitchens at Uptown (4715 N. Sheridan Road) or Garfield Park (3504 W. Lake Street).