<p>From left to right: Apprentice Melissa, Operations Supervisor Lacey, and apprentice Lisa.</p>
While Touch A Heart is primarily known for working with justice-involved individuals, there are many other barriers to employment that those in our community face. Melissa is learning-disabled and went through speech therapy and special education classes in high school. Unfortunately, she was bullied and had difficulty finding and retaining employment.
Melissa has been attending Kalihi Union Church since 1996 and has found a loving and welcoming community there. She discovered Touch A Heart while attending a Sunday School class. "I decided to join because I like to help people," she explained. "At first, I was rusty and unsure, but I learned and built skills with practice. Touch A Heart taught me cooking and culinary skills. I also learned about spices and herbs. Now I can cook at home. My favorite is making spaghetti and meatballs with my mom."
Upon graduating from our foodservice vocational training program in August 2020, she became an apprentice and is now responsible for labeling container lids, making salad dressing, portioning the food, and working on the assembly line to pack our weekly meal sets.
At Touch A Heart, we use food and cooking as a conduit to empower and transform those we serve, and we're extremely proud of the great strides Melissa and all of our graduates have made. "I've learned to love myself, which allows me to love others. Through the program, I've learned to not only think about myself, but to think about others, such as the other interns and those who are incarcerated," Melissa said, noting that her happiness, faith, and confidence have also grown.
In April, Melissa attended the Creative Solutions Expo, which was the culmination of the "Make a Difference" project by Makaha Elementary School sixth graders. "I got to share about my physical and mental bullying experiences," Melissa said. "I want to share more and tell others to get help before you hurt others or yourself. Talking about your anxieties is important. I want to thank Colin and Robin from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to work with this organization."