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Boston Cooking Program Puts Homeless in Kitchens

Julia Child speaks to graduates at New England's largest shelter

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When he was studying cooking on his native island of Trinidad, Roger Wellington caught a glimpse of Julia Child on his little TV set. He instantly became enamored with her expertise, her one-of-a-kind voice, and especially her tall presence in a field that was short on women. Little did he realize that, many years later at Boston's Pine Street Inn, he'd be sharing the spotlight with the very chef he had dreamed of meeting.

At last week's packed graduation ceremony for 10 formerly homeless men and women who'd completed the shelter's food-service training program, Mr. Wellington and Mrs. Child congratulated this striking group on its achievement.

But it was the dreams of those graduates that mattered most to Wellington that day.

During his own training in hospitality administration at Boston University, Wellington made his way over to Pine Street, in a tougher part of town. In 1993, after he'd worked there part-time for a couple of years, he revitalized a one-year cooking program for some of the Inn's ''transitional guests,'' some of whom were battling dependency on alcohol and drugs. For those chosen, he initiated field internships as well as giving them the responsibility for helping to cook more than 1,500 meals a day for shelter residents.

But today his program's embrace extends far beyond the kitchen. Trainees are also taught life skills, such as how to manage their money, how to stay sober, and how to build self-esteem.

''I am looking over your shoulders,'' a fatherly sounding Wel lington told the graduates. ''I don't want to see any of you back at Pine Street Inn.''

So far, placements have been strong. Most of last year's 16 graduates are working and living on their own.

From the class of '95, graduate Jackie Swain says her strategy for self-sufficiency includes starting a culinary arts school for the deaf. ''There isn't one in the country,'' says Ms. Swain, whose spunk and determination despite her own loss of hearing has been an inspiration to her fellow Pine Street Inn residents.

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