ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Hiring troubles are hitting businesses across the United States, but one Abilene nonprofit is giving those needing a second chance the opportunity to find their dream job.
FaithWorks Kitchen Coordinator Samantha LaPierre is living her dream as the main chef for the Abilene nonprofit, but it wasn’t always that way.
“My life was trademarked by one bad decision after another. I mean, like, I was a thief, I was a drug addict, I was homeless, I left my children,” LaPierre said.
LaPierre spent 2011-2016 in and out of prison, never staying out for more than a year and a half.
“While I was in, I took a culinary class at the Lockhart Unit and I really learned that I was not only passionate about it, but I was good at,” LaPierre said.
She was at rock bottom, looking for any way out, and she found it through FaithWorks. As she would drive past the sign, the urge to stop and see what their mission was kept tugging on her spirit.
LaPierre said it was God’s divine intervention that made her change her life. She said God spoke to her through a dream and said she needed to turn her life around.
She said in her dream she was being driven by a man covered in gruesome tattoos from the back of his ears and down his body but he had kind eyes. She believes that was Jesus coming to her in a human’s body, driving to somewhere, throwing trash out of the car’s window. When they arrived, they walked in to a table with all the food imaginable and two classrooms on either side.
LaPierre woke up after that, but when she walked through FaithWorks’ doors, she knew that was where she had dreamed of being.
She quickly enrolled in their 13-week courses, being taught financial and people skills, how to build a resume, going through spiritual leadership, individual counseling and ending the course with an internship.
“They got my foot in the door, like, I don’t know how many people told me ‘No,'” LaPierre said. “Before, what was I going to put on my job application for work experience? TDC kitchen, non-paid employee? There wasn’t a lot I could do to make myself look good on paper. I knew that if I got in there and people gave me a chance, I’d be alright, but who wants to take that risk?”
But the Abilene Country Club did, offering her a job before her internship was through. She worked there for two years, learning under their head chef, and left for a job at Galveston Seafood.
LaPierre graduated in the 48th FaithWorks class in 2019, and returned there last year to be their kitchen coordinator. She wanted to give back to the place that gave her a second chance, even in a struggling job market.
45-year old Raphael Fondren knows that pressure of finding a job in this market.
Fondren moved from St. Louis to Wichita Falls with his military family, and became one of the brightest, most successful kids in his high school.
“I was an A/B honor roll student, I had an Army ROTC scholarship,” Fondren said.
He was also a success in band, on the football field and basketball court, and had aspirations of being in the U.S. Senate when he was older.
However, that all fell through when, at 18-years old, Fondren and a football teammate were arrested on armed robbery charges that sent him to prison for 21 years.
“I thought I would be dead or incarcerated with no chance of seeing the light of day,” Fondren said.
He was released after spending nearly half of his life behind bars, and began working at Chipotle and delivering food for DoorDash in Abilene.
While Chipotle didn’t work out, he continued delivering meals, searching for his opportunity to get his life back on track.
One night, he was delivering a Schlotzky’s sandwich to a receptionist at a local counseling center when he noticed a FaithWorks pamphlet. He picked it up, threw it in his car and didn’t read it for a few days.
However, when he did, everything he wanted and needed to turn his life around was waiting on North Mockingbird.
Crazily enough, he looks back and thinks how one sandwich was the ticket to his new life story.
Fondren has now been enrolled at FaithWorks for two weeks, but is already seeing a spiritual, mental and emotional change in his life.
Fondren says he is excited about the opportunity to intern at the end of the 13-weeks period. He said he wishes to pursue a career in social work, focusing on struggling single mothers, just like he had growing up.
“In six months I’d like to finish up the school, work for the degree, then move up from there,” Fondren said. “In five years, making sure I’m doing the same thing but on a higher level, trying to reach out to more people. In 10 years, the same thing, until finally we’ve cured the world with love.”
Now, LaPierre can share her story with students like Raphael Fondren and his classmates. She has the ability to show them that their opportunity and second chance is just a few short weeks away. LaPierre is living proof of their slogan, “It is never too late to become what you might have been.”
Since the pandemic began, FaithWorks has seen a 90% retention rate in their courses, meaning that 90% of the students are on their way to a brand new lifestyle.
FaithWorks offers three, 13-week courses per year and are still taking applications for the next two in 2022. If you are looking for that second chance, apply on their website ,call their office number at (325) 437-2272 or visit them at 1229 North Mockingbird Street.