Students Becoming Involved

students workingEl Cajon Project is for students willing to re-dedicate themselves to laying the foundation for the opportunity for an even more successful life. Closed doors to opportunity can now be opened to successful entrance into the community. Through confidence building and hands-on work experience in the Bay Area's finest kitchens, students can transfer their newly discovered self-esteem and enthusiasm for learning to their academics.

El Cajon Project teaches students good personal skills, including:

  • Communication skills
  • Sense of responsibility
  • Good work ethic
  • Customer service skills

El Cajon’s students contribute to their communities and conduct themselves like the positive young adults that they are, and they bring those positive leadership skills back to their friends and peers.

El Cajon student Jessie with Alexander's Steakhouse chefs

El Cajon student Jessie with Alexander's Steakhouse chefs

Best chefs in the world helping students learn the trade.

Alex Hunter

Cooking at PCI

Alex Hunter preparing a dish at PCI

Joseph Hodgkinson

Joseph Hodgkinson

Joseph Hodgkinson, the executive chef and owner of Foda as well as Bay Area native, has enjoyed cooking all his life. Joseph studied at the California Culinary Academy and graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. Expanding his professional experience at Roy's Waikoloa, Osteria Del Circo, Chez T.J., The Campton Place, Chez Panisse, The Heathman Restaurant, and The French Laundry.

Joseph is well versed in many styles of cuisine. His love of cooking extends to all aspects of his life. Foda supports environmental, human, and community health. Understanding the importance of the food you eat and where it comes from.

Corrie Dorman

Corrie Dorman

Corrie Dorman was awarded a new Dell computer by one of our generous donors.

Matt Magana

Matt Magana

Matt Magana was a student of Betty's at Gilroy High in her culinary classes as well as a student in El Cajon for two years. We were invited to his graduation party where I was able to ask Matt a series of questions regarding his experience over the last two years.

After chatting with Matt for awhile I asked him what the biggest change was he saw in himself from before entering the program to now, after graduating. His response was that he felt a greater sense of responsibility and that through that responsibility came integrity in the work he was doing and the skills he was learning. After being placed in a "real workplace", the fast paced kitchen of Alexander's Steakhouse, Matt said that he "had to evolve and wanted to evolve" in order to keep up with those around him. After interning at Alexander's through the El Cajon program Matt was offered a job working with the pastries. His plans now that he has graduated are to "continue his career in culinary at Alexander's" and he hopes to continue his plating skills which has become a new passion of his. Through his experience at Alexander's Matt has learned that the culinary world offers room to expand as he learns new skills every day. What he believes has changed from two years ago is that he wants to learn these new skills and that he is interested in expanding his knowledge and going to work every day. He is excited again because as he puts it, the kitchen offers an "exploration of new possibilities." In 5 years Matt hopes to have experienced different kitchens and their styles as he builds upon his skills in hopes of one day owning his own restaurant. When I asked him to describe Betty in one word I could tell that this was a challenge, because if you know Betty like the rest of us do, you know she is a very complex person. However Matt did come up with some great answers; "chaotically composted, exciting, compelling, scary, caring and informational". When asked to describe his experience in El Cajon Matt answered: "mind-blowing, new and life-changing". His words describe what the program is all about. It is chaotic and Betty does expect a lot from her students but the reward and the knowledge gained is all worth it, because this program does change youth's lives.

Matt Magana

In addition to my interview with Matt I also asked his dad, Ignacio, a few questions regarding the transformation he has seen in his son. When asked about the transformation, Ignacio stated it was "night and day!" He was thankful of Betty's time with Matt because she knew how to support him and how to prepare him for the next steps in his life. Ignacio sees a commitment that his son has made towards his future and he is extremely proud of that. Matt's mom had previously written a letter to Betty thanking her for what she and the program had done for Matt. In her letter, Lisa explains

You have sent him on a path full of amazing opportunity. An opportunity that others would give their left arm for. His future is so bright, he is bursting with pride (and now a little bit of humbleness - again thanks to your mentorship). I haven't seen Matthew dare to hope for his future this much since he was a small boy. Thank you for helping our son achieve his dreams.

This is just one success story from the 19 years and counting that El Cajon has been facilitating young and able minds in becoming productive members of their societies.

Interview by Kaitlin Nieman

Maya (College Living Experience - Monterey)


El Cajon Project is currently supporting and training several students from College Living Experience - Monterey, including Maya, seen here working at Restaurant 1833 in Monterey.

See what Maya's been up to lately! Check out her blog, "Maya's Pasta: Maya's Cooking Adventures"!

From the CLE web site:

"College Living Experience (CLE) is a post-secondary program for students who require additional support with academic, social and independent living skills. CLE provides intensive assistance to students with varying abilities. Students with autism, Asperger's, learning disabilities, developmental delays and a host of other special needs receive the support they need to pursue post-secondary education and become independent adults.

"At CLE, students with special needs experience life in a college environment and receive instruction in areas of: independent living skills, academic skills, career development and social skills so they can transition into adulthood."