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How did Ernest Jamison end up at Mercy Home? It was just meant to be.
“It was almost perfect,” he remembered. “It was like I was supposed to come here at the time that I did.”
Nearly two and half years ago, Ernest was working a part-time job teaching culinary skills to young adults and looking for another part-time job to fill his evenings. He applied to Mercy Home—and that’s where the story got interesting.
The program where he taught ended up being discontinued, and it was the first Monday without a class that Ernest received a call from Mercy Home offering him a full-time job. As it turned out, former coworker and Manager of Food Service Operations Nyah Griffin had been in a culinary program in high school with David Blackmon, Ernest’s former boss. This small-world connection helped secure Ernest’s position at Mercy Home as a cook in the West Loop kitchen.
“It’s like it had to happen that way,” he said. “It was like, on purpose or something. The universe lined me up for that.”
With a long background in culinary arts, the job was a perfect fit for Ernest, whose interest in cooking started at an early age. He asked his mother and grandmother countless questions about cooking growing up and graduated to making meals at the age of 12 or 13. Soon he was cooking frequently for his family.
“I just fell in love with it,” he said. “When other people like your food, it’s better than tasting it yourself. Because if everybody else likes it, then I know it’s good, right?”
Growing up in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago also exposed him to many different cultures, and, as a result, many types of food. He and his friends often ate at one another’s house, enjoying the cooking of their mothers.
“I learned to be diverse in my cooking based on how I grew up,” he explained.
When he was a little older, he attended a cooking apprenticeship where he spent nine weeks going over the basics and receiving all of his certificates and licenses to get started working in the field. He then worked in a variety of areas within the culinary arts field, including restaurants, hotels, and with private catering companies. He is also working on his own catering company now, in addition to his work at Mercy Home.
“When other people like your food, it’s better than tasting it yourself. Because if everybody else likes it, then I know it’s good, right?”
Ernest said that he enjoys working at Mercy Home because of the supportive environment it provides that is in contrast with many kitchen environments.
“Whenever you take away the element of commerce, it’s always better,” he said. “I know we still deal with money here [at Mercy Home], but no one has to pay for the food that we provide, so it’s different. Friendly faces, you know? Everybody’s here for a positive reason versus just going out to eat.”
The kitchen staff at Mercy Home is especially supportive, willing to pick up the slack for each other without issue, Ernest explained.
“It does feel like a team,” he said. “If one person is falling behind, we all know what to do to catch back up and we don’t have a problem with that. With [places like restaurants], it’s not like that. People [say], that’s not my job. [Here], it’s more supportive.”
Ernest also enjoys working with the young men who take jobs in the kitchen. He said he felt that offering our kids positions in a place where they feel comfortable allows them to be more relaxed and engaged in learning, and that shows through the skills they quickly pick up.
“I enjoy being able to teach them something and then they come back the next day and perform what I taught them,” he said.
“They catch on pretty quick.”
“I enjoy being able to teach them something and then they come back the next day and perform what I taught them.”
However, it’s the mission in general that Ernest names as the highlight of his job.
“The best part about working at Mercy Home is basically the mission,” he said.
“I believe that everyone that comes to work here, we all have the same mission, the same goal. It’s about these kids and that’s it. So I think knowing that [and] being in a position where I can give back to something [is rewarding]. … Basically, the mission here at Mercy is what keeps me coming back.”