By Amie Hoag, GCC director of communications and annual giving
Early on a Friday morning, Julian Sanchez was in the Goodman Community Center’s catering kitchen, prepping for a TV interview with NBC 15. He was going to make an omelet on camera and he wanted to make sure he had everything ready. Sanchez is a planner — a skill that will serve him well as he pursues his dream of becoming a chef.
When the reporter arrived, Julian got to work whipping up an omelet that was as delicious as it was beautiful and talked with the reporter about graduating a full year early from La Follette High School and applying — and getting accepted — to the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. It became immediately clear the kitchen is his comfort zone.
Sanchez is an exceptional young man who worked hard to finish high school early, thanks in large part to the five extra credits he earned by working in the GCC’s TEENworks program. Though Sanchez is extraordinary, the fact is, his experience with Goodman’s Lussier LOFT Teen Center was pretty average.
Building a toolbox
The TEENworks program sets youth up with the tools they need to pursue their interests and passions.
“Anything you want to do, staff here will help you figure out how to learn more about it or meet an expert in that field,” Sanchez said. “TEENworks is one of the only jobs (for teens) where you’re going to gain valuable skills and meet people who can help you succeed in what you want to do.”
In Sanchez’s case, that exposure started in the Goodman catering kitchen as a teen on the hospitality team.
Jeff Schmidt has worked as Goodman’s catering chef for the last five years and with Sanchez for three of those years. Schmidt saw the young man’s potential and set to work fostering Sanchez’s passion for food.
“Right off the bat, Julian came out and said he was interested in going to culinary school,” Schmidt said. “I worked with getting him into a leadership role on the team. He learned from me and then took what he learned and worked with other students. A big part of learning is teaching.”
Schmidt shared an anecdote about a gougers (French cheese puffs) recipe that just wasn’t turning out as well as he’d have liked. He worked with Sanchez to find a new recipe from “The French Laundry Cookbook,” and Sanchez set to work mastering it.
“It wasn’t coming out bad before, it just wasn’t coming out where I knew it could be,” Schmidt explained. “Even when I made it, I wasn’t fully satisfied with how it turned out. When Julian does it, it’s phenomenal. He follows the recipe but with the Goodman twist.”
Schmidt had gifted Sanchez with “The French Laundry Cookbook” for Christmas one year. It’s a book that’s commonly used in culinary schools, and Schmidt knew it would give Sanchez a leg up.
“Anytime I come (to Goodman), I know people care and they want me to succeed. It’s a good feeling to be in an environment where you can feel like that.”
Another way Sanchez got a leg up was through a connection to a local chef from Howard Hayes, Goodman’s assistant director of youth and community development. The connection landed Sanchez an internship with Evan Dannells, owner of Cadre on Madison’s near west side.
“Evan gave me two options: Come in and learn unpaid or get a job at the restaurant. I chose to just learn during the school year, and I hope to work at Cadre this summer,” Sanchez said. “I learned the catering side of the business at Goodman and now I’d like to learn more about working in a restaurant.”
These experiences will set Sanchez up for success at the Culinary Institute. He’s learning and mastering some of the basic skills now that will help him test into higher-level classes when he gets to the school in the fall.
Throughout his three years in TEENworks, Sanchez has been bolstered and supported by staff who care about the success of each teen.
“Goodman is a circle of trust and confidence,” explained Catie Tollefson, assistant director of youth and career development. “Here, youth develop trusted relationships with adults — which gives them confidence to step out of their comfort zone and speak with more adults and build more trusted relationships — which in turn, expands their comfort zone as they prepare to go to college or enter the workforce.”
This is evident in Julian’s evolution as a young person who barely said 20 words his first summer, to a teen who knows the whole staff of the Lussier LOFT and TEENworks programs are on his side.
“Anytime I come here, I know people care and they want me to succeed,” Sanchez said. “It’s a good feeling to be in an environment where you can feel like that.”
Impact and community
Youth, like Sanchez, who participate in the TEENworks program aren’t the only ones who feel good in the environment they’re working in. The program is mutually beneficial for the staff and the youth, as well as the broader community.
“As a person who didn’t have an educator background — and never saw that in my future — I’ve been surprised that it’s been such a rewarding experience and that the youth have been so exemplary,” Schmidt said. “I’ve just been so impressed these last five years. That’s been a cool experience for me, personally.”
TEENworks and LOFT staff work to help teens in the program see that they can — and already do — make an impact on their community.
“We’re intentional about how we approach opportunities for teens,” said Shantrice Solis, high school partnerships manager. “We take youth on field trips so they feel as if they’re a part of the community and that they belong in their community.”
One of the most popular shifts for TEENworks youth is GCC’s food pantry, where teens help stock shelves, bag donated bread and pastries and clean up the pantry.
“The youth tell us they love the shift because they feel like they’re helping, like they’re making a difference,” Solis said. “They understand this work is important.”
For teens like Sanchez, the value of this program is clear. In addition to all the great experiences he has had working with TEENworks, he’s also been given ample opportunity to take on leadership roles, including leading the cooking club for Goodman’s middle school program the last two school years.
“Showing younger kids how to cook is great because if you throw anything in front of them, they’ll do it,” he said. “It was fun to teach them different skills and techniques and then to get to see them do it was really amazing.”
Tollefson laughed when she heard that quote. “I’d say the exact same thing about Julian.”
Ready for the next step
In September, at just 17 years old, Sanchez will pack up and head to New York to attend the Culinary Institute. He’ll spend two years earning an associate degree and getting more experience in the industry. Then, he plans to work, save up some money and travel around the world learning about different cuisines and cultures.
“I plan to use that experience to open a restaurant pulling from cuisines from around the world, especially lesser-known or underrated places,” Sanchez said.
Part of those plans include eventually opening a restaurant in Madison.
“Julian is so driven, focused and motivated, I have no doubt he’ll accomplish all his goals,” Solis said. “Everyone at Goodman is so proud of him, and we can’t wait to be the first customers in his restaurant.”
If you would like to support Sanchez on his journey, check out the GoFundMe page set up to help him pay for tuition and room and board while at the Culinary Institute at bit.ly/JulianNY.
Help Julian realize his culinary dreams
If you would like to support Sanchez on his journey, check out the GoFundMe page set up to help him pay for tuition and room and board while at the Culinary Institute.
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