For more information about the Salvation Army School of Culinary Arts, call 756-1023 or visit the website at www.csarmy.org.
The goal for Melinda Doss was to complete the Chattanooga Salvation Army's School of Culinary Arts training and get a job, just as the nine culinary arts students did before her.
Her teacher secured two job prospects for her during the 12-week training. However, a chronic medical problem prevented her from making it to either interview.
But on Tuesday, with her medical condition under control for a couple of weeks, the 40-year-old grandmother marched with her head high to "Pomp and Circumstance" with two other graduates.
The graduation is among several events highlighting the contributions of the local Salvation Army during National Salvation Army Week, the observance of which ends in a daylong concert in Coolidge Park on Saturday.
Teacher and chef Terry Epps said this year's class faced personal challenges that made completion of the course more impressive.
Doss learned that her 8-year-old grandson has leukemia; fellow graduate Christina McKibbens had to have throat surgery during her training; and graduate Desia Clements expects to give birth in two weeks.
But Epps has faith that all three graduates will get jobs within the next three months.
These women have been through a lot, but they stayed the course, he said.
"I'm proud of the graduates for sticking to it. It's not easy," Epps said.
Previous graduates have set a good track record for employment, he said. All of them were indigent or homeless, and all of them now have homes and jobs. Students have been hired as cooks at the Olive Garden, Honest Pint and assisted living facilities.
Epps already has secured a deal with the Cherry Street Diner in which his upcoming class will get hands-on experience as cooks in a commercial kitchen.
The culinary arts training does not cost the students anything. The Salvation Army budgets about $2,500 per student for cooking supplies, foods used and chef time. The money comes from community contributions, said Kimberly George, the nonprofit's agency director of marketing development.
The course teaches meal preparation for entry into food services. Students learn food and kitchen safety; sanitation; proper use of equipment, including basic knife skills; cooking theory and techniques; serving methods; kitchen operations; and gardening.
Epps said the only requirement is that applicants have to be drug-free and have a desire to improve their lives.
Clements, who came to the school as part of a court-ordered community service program, said she's learned more than good culinary skills.
"It makes me feel good as a person, as a woman, to have finished something I started," she said.