I used drugs for a lot of years. I started using at fifteen. I came from Puerto Rico for a new life. I didn’t know how to speak English. The first word I learned is “dope.”
I spent years living on the street. I felt scared. I would sleep on the roof of a building in the Bronx. I got arrested because I sold drugs to an undercover cop. The judge put me in a program called El Regreso. I sometimes said I wanted to get out, but I finished. It worked.
I have a friend – she studied Culinary Arts at Project Renewal. She talked to me about this school and I told her, “I want to go.” I said, “I want to cook. I want to be a chef.”
Before, I didn’t believe in myself. I didn’t want to talk because I’m scared the people will laugh when I speak. El Regreso was a Spanish program. Here I have to speak English. They helped me learn English, too, because the class was in English. When I got off from school, I went to English class.
Chef Anthony has a lot of patience. If I don’t understand something he tries to speak Spanish. He’s the best. He always gives me ….how do you say “esperanza”? He tells me, “You’re the best Yaraliz. You’re going to go far.” He gave me encouragment…yes! He made me feel good.
In the Culinary Arts program I cooked. They give you tests. You learn about temperature, about how long to cook this meat or chicken. I took baking too. I wanted to learn everything from Project Renewal! I studied for 9 months. Then they hired me at American Express. Later I talked to Chef Anthony and I said, “I want to work for Project Renewal.” They didn’t have anything at the moment, but one day Barbara Hughes called and told me I could start working here. I feel good when I cook. I feel even better when I say that I work for Project Renewal!
I work at a residence in Brooklyn. They help people with mental health problems. Project Renewal runs the kitchen. I do the dinner and I prep the breakfast. I work Sunday to Thursday from 11am to 7pm. I clean the kitchen, cook for the afternoon, I serve and I clean the kitchen again. I cook everything! For example, today I’m cooking barbecue chicken and sweet potatoes. The other day I cooked macaroni and cheese, chicken and collard greens. They loved it. I feel good because I never have leftovers. They always want seconds. I say, “I have no more!” I’ve been there three months. Only three months and they love me!
I’ve been clean for three years. If they didn’t have the Culinary Arts Program, I wouldn’t have a job. If I didn’t have my job, I wouldn’t have my mind focused. When people are bored, that’s when they start using drugs. Now I’m 35, live in a room, and I’m saving money.