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Local Diner Providing Lessons, Second Chance to the Convicted

Commercial Street

In today’s courtroom, some judges use what they call “alternative sentencing,” rather than sending the guilty to jail.  As KSMU’s Scott Butler reports, one local diner is a place where some workers can put away the past, and prepare for their futures.

Reporter standup: "Right now, I can smell the fresh deli from today’s lunch special.  I’m here at Cook’s Kettle, which is more than just a little diner.  This is a place for a second chance for many people working here."

“What Cook’s Kettle is, a learning laboratory for the school,” said Victoria Queen, the president of Victory Trade School.

“So they have seated classes but when they’re working in the Cook’s Kettle, they’re actually in a college laboratory learning the skills,” she said.

[Sound:  ice going into a cup]

As ice is poured into a cup at Cook’s Kettle, others take a seat at a table nearby.  This diner is run under the leadership of the Victory Trade School.  This school’s focus is on the culinary arts and it’s located right here in Springfield.  It’s also a place to foster discipline.  Many of the students here have a past that they would rather forget: a past that consists of drugs, alcohol, living on the streets and incarceration. 

This school doesn’t provide the ordinary education but does provide many learning curves.  There are no math classes, no science nor social studies…instead, the main class focuses on life.

Eric Williams is the specialty cook for Cooks Kettle.  He comes up with the ideas and makes each day’s lunch. 

Williams says his lifestyle in Florida was not what he wanted.  After living on the streets for so long, he decided to join a ministry.  The instructor there knew Queen and asked her for help.

“It gave me an opportunity to view life in a different perspective rather than the way I was living in and running around on the streets,” he said.

[Sound: cash register]

On this day, a customer is paying for his meal.  Meals here typically cost five to seven dollars.

The diner is just one of over 700 agencies that are part of the Community Alternative Service Program, or CASP.  According to a spokesman for CASP, these alternative routes are a way for people to change their lives after their mistakes.

Once again, Victoria Queen.

 “What we do is have them to start to take responsibility for themselves. Everything from when they come in the door, they’re taught everything you do, you are responsible for you.  And you do that within a body of teamwork,” she said.

Queen says workers like Williams earn their second chance by working at Cook’s Kettle.  Located on the corner of Boonville and Commercial, this diner is open on the weekdays from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m.

For KSMU News, I’m Scott Butler.