If given the chance, Jose Rivera knew he could prove himself.

The Humboldt Park native, 52, was released from federal prison back in November. Upon his release, he was determined to set a new path forward – for himself and his family.

Jose Rivera

Jose Rivera (photo by Kenneth Johnson for the Food Depository)

“Losing my family was the worst thing ever to me,” he said of the eight years he spent away from his wife and children on drug charges. Before his latest sentence, Rivera said he’d been in and out of incarceration since he was 14.

“I knew that in order for me to not lose my family again, I’ve got to establish a different way of life, a different way of thinking, a different way of acting,” he said.

Not long after his release, Rivera heard about the Food Depository’s new Certified Logistics and Warehouse Technician program, a paid 12-week supply chain industry job training available to unemployed or underemployed Cook County residents. The students’ work directly with the Food Depository’s operations team, receiving hands-on instruction on the warehouse floor.

This July, Rivera was a member of the program’s first graduating class. With his new certifications and experience in tow, he accepted a job on the Food Depository’s receiving team, helping load and unload trucks and stocking deliveries of food.

The Food Depository's first CLWT graduating class

The Food Depository’s first Certified Logistics and Warehouse Technician Training program graduating class. (Photo by Mateo Zapata for the Food Depository)

Food Depository staff applaud the graduating class of the Certified Logistics and Warehouse Technician program

Food Depository staff applaud the graduating class of the Certified Logistics and Warehouse Technician program (photo by Mateo Zapata for the Food Depository)

Rivera’s proud of his accomplishments and the chance to have a fresh start.

“From day one, they greeted me with open arms,” he said. “Not too many people are willing to give you that chance, and here they gave me that chance.”

Creating supply chain careers

The training is one of two programs offered as part of the Food Depository’s new supply chain career path program, which began earlier this year. This represents a shift for the organization’s job training, which for two decades has specialized in hospitality industry careers.

“But what we wanted to do was go into another industry, especially one we really know and we excel in,” said Malik Kemokai, director of workforce development strategy and operations

“As a food bank, we are a part of the supply chain industry,” he said. “So it really made sense for us to create a program that teaches our participants things like warehousing, transportation and logistics.”

The new offerings include a six-week entry-level training. The more in-depth warehouse and logistics program provides 10 weeks of training at the Food Depository in partnership with Moraine Valley Community College and a two-week internship. Graduates leave with advanced certifications and skills needed for successful careers in the field.

Student Rachel Tchamko receives forklift training as part of her warehouse job training program. (Photo by Kenneth Johnson for the Food Depository)

Student Rachel Tchamko receives forklift training as part of her warehouse job training program. (Photo by Kenneth Johnson for the Food Depository)

Rivera’s long-term goal is to one day run his own trucking business – one that will still allow him to be home with his family each night.  Rivera and his wife share a son and daughter. Their son, 21, has autism and lives with him and his wife. Their daughter, 19, is going into her junior year at the University of Illinois.

His current position at the Food Depository allows him to further his training and receive support with obtaining his commercial driver’s license.

The program, he said, has made him realize that he can accomplish anything he sets his mind to.

“I’m looking at things totally different,” he said. “I know I’m marketable now. It’s not about taking a $12 (an hour) job because that’s all I could get. Now having this experience and working hands on, it gives me a better place to place myself and my family financially.”

‘Progress over perfection’

“The risk you’re scared to take could potentially change your life,” said Briana Brewer, another member of the graduating class, as she reflected on her experience in the program.

When the pandemic hit last year, Brewer, 22, said she was left feeling “stagnant.” When her mom told her about the warehouse job training, she saw it as a chance to get out of her comfort zone.

Briana Brewer posed for a photo at the Food Depository

Briana Brewer (photo by Kenneth Johnson for the Food Depository)

Brewer was a student at Kennedy-King College with an interest in studying media and communications. But the stay-at-home orders, she said, forced her to reevaluate her goals and future.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I didn’t know where to go because things were shut down,” Brewer said.

Aside from the skills she picked up during the training – ranging from basic business lessons to how to operate different warehouse machinery – Brewer’s confidence grew over the 12 weeks. One of the most important lessons her instructors taught her was to not get defeated when she didn’t master a skill or ace a test right away, she said.

“At one point I chose progress over perfection,” she said. “I don’t care about getting it perfectly right 100% of the time. If I progress even by an inch, I’m internally happy. Because it means I learned, I adapted, and I’m ultimately getting better.”

Brewer could have never imagined a year ago where she’d be today, she said. But because of the program, she was inspired to change career paths. Now, she plans on returning to school to get her associate degree in supply chain management.

After that, she hopes to get a bachelor’s in international business, and possibly continue for her master’s degree.

“I can genuinely say compared to last year, this year has been going so well for me,” she said. “I’m just filled with gratitude. Because this place has helped me and a bunch of other people so much. And everyone here, I think, has a clear (vision) of what they want to do in the future.”

Learn more about the Food Depository’s supply chain career path and other job training programs.