Working within an economically growing community, in financially healthy state, in one of the most wealthy nations of the world, the staff of OSL are surrounded each day by individuals who struggle with not having enough to eat. The base issue behind the need for organizations like ours is simple: Poverty.
In the midst 99% movement, the conversations about a higher minimum wage within the limits of the City of Seattle, we are bombarded with amazing statistics: 15.1% of households live in extreme poverty in the county, and these households shelters one out of three African American children. The average CEO earns in one hour of work what their average paid employee makes in one month. Income inequality is alive in well in this a world.
At OSL we work break the cycle of poverty. We pay sustainable wages, and often hire from our client base. At the time that this is being published, at least 62% of the individuals employed by OSL have had experiences with homelessness, substance issues, or have been victims of domestic violence. This gives our staff a unique connection with our clientele. It also requires OSL to practice patience, and forgiveness as an employer. We provide training and benefits to those whom others deem unemployable. We offer a second, or third or fourth, chance to those who are able to ask, and even to those who are not. Not all of our stories have happy endings, but some of them do.
Chef Paul is a wonderful player on the OSL team, and today we share with you his story, told in his own words.
I knew as a young boy at the age of 12 that I would be involved in the food industry one way or another. My father was in the restaurant business and I thought I wanted to be just like him. I spent much of my youth learning to become a master cake decorator and by the time I was 18 the doors were wide open. The world, as they say, was my oyster. I went to work for Kroeger’s as a cake decorator and pastry chef for 11 years, however I had a dark secret that started to send me in a downward spiral; the long destructive path of drug abuse.
I spent 20 years going from town to town and sofa to sofa still denying I had any sort of problem. I became a great prevaricator and was able to camouflage my addictions for long periods of time. In October of 2005 I moved to Seattle still very addicted to cocaine. I learned to be an excellent story teller and could blend into any environment like a chameleon. I came up with an elaborate account that I was a Hurricane Katrina evacuee in hopes that someone would take pity on me and give me a place to stay. Things got out of hand and one lie led to another which led to another and before I knew it know it I was up to my eyeballs in lies. The problem with lying, with living life as a lie, is that it erodes into your very soul and not only does your self- esteem disintegrate, but it is impossible to remember what you told to whom. Pretty soon the discrepancies become apparent.
Anyway, I ended up homeless and became a client of the Compass Center in Seattle where I was given shelter and some hope. There, I met Beverly Graham and Krista Grimm from OPERATION: Sack Lunch. The lies continued to grow because I wanted to impress them. They embraced me like I was a family member and before I knew it OSL offered me a job in the kitchen as a cook and a few months later they offered me a dream job as the Executive Chef and Instructor of OCCUPATION Next Step, a pilot program training homeless people to become Chefs.
I thought everything would work itself out even though I was still heavily addicted to cocaine. I was trying very hard to live the lies that I had dreamed up in my head and told to everyone. The foundation is false and so not one part of my life was real. Beverly and her staff, the volunteers, and many others involved with OSL believed in me and praised my talents, but inside I felt dead. Before I knew it the stress of the lies, the deceit and the drug use was beginning to destroy me. I was at the end of my rope and the noose was getting tighter and I was caught in my deception.
Beverly did not prosecute me nor persecute me. She loved me. It was harder than anything I ever had experienced; to be loved inside my shame. Beverly exercised “tough love” and I was fired. I had nowhere to go, no family to turn to because they weren’t speaking to me, so I finally decided to seek help.
On January 11th, 2007, I went into treatment for my drug addiction. I moved into clean and sober housing and things began to change for me. After my treatment I only talked to Beverly a few times just to stay in touch and to let her know that I was doing O.K. She never made any judgments about my past but only loved me. For the first time in my life I realized what it felt like to have love and to love myself. The conversations that Beverly and I were having became more frequent, and finally I was able to go visit her at her home….whew! I thought it was going to be one of the hardest things I ever had to do but it turned out to be one of the best moments in my life.
I have been clean and sober now for more than 7 years. I now have my family back in my life and I have Beverly, Krista, and my OSL family back as well. In January of 2010 I signed a lease on my very first apartment ever! At 47 yrs old, I had never lived alone or had had anything I treasure to speak of. I now have a love for myself, my family and my OSL family and I was rehired as the kitchen manager for OSL in June 2010.
I now know the real meaning of honesty and compassion. I know that throughout our lives we meet people along the way for a reason. I never wanted to take the time to know why, but now I believe I do know why. Some people are just there and others you meet because they are there to guide and support you through the rough times. Then there are people like Beverly and the OSL organization that shows us how to truly love others even if they are outcast and undesirable. People can change when they are truly forgiven.
~ Chef Paul Nicolosi
Chef Paul was rehired in June of 2010, and has been an affirmation that love can heal even the most damaged heart. It takes courage and integrity to seek help. It takes determination to change a lifetime of behavior challenges one day at a time. It takes true humility to ask for forgiveness. Chef Paul plays a leadership role in our organization as a member of our kitchen leadership team. He is loved and admired by our clients and volunteers, and his contributions to OSL are a tribute to his own personal excellence. He has vision, humor, and humility, participates in the training of our chef staff, and continues to create superb culinary delights.
Thank you, Chef Paul, for allowing us to share your story.