Student Stories

Student Stories

Abdiel Dominguez
Design Lab student/ Class of 2023 at UIC College Prep

Abdiel Dominguez has found a home at CHICAT. Abdiel started coming to CHICAT’s ASM (After School Matters) programs in the Fall of 2020 and has not missed a session since. He is now a junior at UIC College Prep and has done 4 sessions in CHICAT’s Design Lab and 1 session in CHICAT’s Maker Lab. It is clear Abdiel has learned a tremendous amount from his experience at CHICAT, but it impossible to get him to talk about CHICAT without him mentioning how CHICAT has allowed him to be himself. When asked “What have you learned at CHICAT?” Abdiel didn’t immediately answer that he has learned how to sculpt clay, or code, or create a self-portrait – but he has learned all of those things here. What he does say, without hesitation, is “There are people that are just like me. They have the same interests. I don’t have to pretend to be somebody I’m not. I can be myself.” Abdiel also points out that he has made new friends here and again speaks on how he feels allowed to be his true self in our programs. Abdiel will be back for our summer programs, and while he will learn more design techniques from our Design Lab instructor, Kristen, he will be also be learning and teaching something just as important – especially for teens – you can be your true self and still make friends.

Natasha Huff
Food Lab Quality Graduate

Natasha found CHICAT when she was in tough spot – directly following a divorce at the unemployment office. Natasha, the mother of 5 children between ages 4 and 16 didn’t know what to do. Her youngest was too young for her to work full time right away but she needed to provide for her family. The woman working at the office showed her CHICAT’s flier and through Natasha’s hard work and CHICAT’s classes, Natasha says “her life and her career were changed”. After 6 months in the Food Quality Lab (Quality Assurance), Natasha, a diligent student, graduated in May of 2018. CHICAT introduced her to Gold Standard Baking and set up an interview. Natasha was ready because she had been practicing interviews with her instructor and CHICAT’s Pathways Coordinator, but she was also nervous because she had no previous experience in quality control. She nailed it.  By July, Natasha had a job at Gold Standard Baking making $16/hour. Because of her CHICAT certifications, trainings, and her hard work Natasha got a promotion only 6 months later! Not only, this, Natasha tells me, it stands as the biggest pay raise/promotion in Gold Standard Baking’s history. Natasha went from a Quality Assurance Technician to a Production Supervisor. She went from hourly to salaried and doubled her annual income! 3 years later, Natasha says her training is still paying off. She was promoted again and again her salary nearly doubled! As the Assistant Manager of Quality Assurance, Natasha supervises a team of 6 and is second in command of that division. As the Assistant Manager, Natasha often recalls what she learned at CHICAT to help her and even reviews her notes at times from her time in class at CHICAT. When asked what about CHICAT was special to her Natasha talks at length and exudes gratitude. “6 months made a difference right away”. She says “I wanted to learn and I knew my children needed it.” CHICAT improved the life of my children, “there is no limit to my career and I will always have a job. People always need food.” Natasha describes herself as “grateful, so grateful, honored and really appreciates” the programs at CHICAT. She wants CHICAT to thrive and grow because it has changed her world and the world of her children. She wants that opportunity for everybody. When hard work meets the opportunities and care that CHICAT provides it is truly world changing.   

Bryan Armour Maintenance Mechanics Graduate

Curiosity and a way to save money to pay for his last year of college brought Bryan Armour to CHICAT. Bryan was attending Jackson State University in Mississippi when COVID hit and forced him back home. He planned to return in August of 2021, but COVID lingered.  So, he started looking for a job. He attended a CHICAT workforce program orientation and the instructor, Maurice Anderson, followed up and convinced him to enroll in the Advanced Maintenance Mechanics program.  Six months later, Bryan completed his classwork on April 8th and has a job offer pending already as a Level 1 Maintenance Mechanic. Bryan is thrilled about the opportunity. He would work 40-60 hours a week for $28/hour and get paid weekly. Bryan is excited about the possibility for advancement that can come with more experience and on-the-job training. He has the potential to earn up to $52/hr at this company. Bryan’s long-term plan is to finish his college degree. For now, he plans on having a nice dinner for his mom and maybe even getting a 2015 Jeep Gladiator which he will customize himself using some of his new skills.

Jeslyn WilliamsDesign Lab Student 2022/ Class of 2023 at Whitney Young Magnet High School

Jeslyn enjoys school, structure, and art. As a studious junior at Whitney Young, Jeslyn enjoys the routine and structured time CHICAT provides for her to create. Going through high school as a focused student in the time of COVID, Jeslyn’s main outlet and extracurricular activity is coming to CHICAT. “I enjoy the routine of coming here 3 times a week to focus on art. I pretty much go to school and here [to CHICAT] and then home. I don’t go anywhere else.” She enjoys the space and time to create. “The teacher sets us up to work and we have time to create with all of the different mediums she has and then if we have any questions, we can go to her and get help.” She also enjoys the small classes and the people she has met.

This last semester Jeslyn saw an opportunity to grow, so she applied to be an ASM ambassador at CHICAT. CHICAT is proud to have given her that opportunity.  “My time at CHICAT has taught me the beauty of abstract art, a style which I previously dismissed. I realized how things as small as brushstrokes and choices in color can drastically alter the quality of a piece. I’ve had a lifelong passion for visual art but never pursued it until this past year through ASM and an art course at my high school. Being a student ambassador gave me an opportunity to return to an environment I love, while learning more about one of my biggest passions along with other artists. I enjoyed the practice that leadership opportunities gave me with explaining things to others, presenting myself in a professional manner, staying calm under pressure, and staying organized. As an ambassador, I had the chance to improve my art knowledge and leadership skills at the same time.”

CHICAT is proud to be a part of Jeslyn’s journey and to provide an opportunity for her to grow as an artist and a leader. Jeslyn will be applying to college next year and plans to study social work and/or psychology while continuing to create and lead along the way.

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