Transformation Stories

Glenda Alvarenga: Hungry for Empowerment

When Glenda Alvarenga first came to Homeboy Bakery, all she was looking for was something to eat. “Someone told me they were selling food here for two dollars!” she says with a laugh. “One of the workers saw that I was wearing the yellow jacket for people who have to do community service. He asked me if I needed a job and sent me to Father Greg.’”

At the time, Glenda’s boyfriend was facing a fraud conviction. Though she was later cleared of all charges, Glenda had just spent time in jail and desperately needed work. “I started in the bakery selling pastries. Then they put me in the café. I started as a line cook and I did that for two years. I like to work in the kitchen; my time goes by faster.”

Ten years later, Glenda has long since graduated from the training program and is now a supervisor and sous chef for Homegirl Café’s catering division. She helps to provide on-site training in culinary arts, restaurant operations, management, and customer service.

One of the most difficult aspects of becoming a supervisor for Glenda was learning management skills. Conflicts sometimes arose when she asked others to complete tasks. But her managers have helped her become more competent and confident. “Now I feel more comfortable working with people,” she says.

Catering director Jayro Sandoval says, “The key was empowering [Glenda] to find her own voice. We know the trainees can handle it. Even when there is some pushback, we know that they all have that potential.”

Both Jayro and Glenda credit Arlin Crane, director of operations, for empowering women across the café and catering departments. “With a culinary management background, she has brought a lot of knowledge and a passion for mentoring. She has modeled to them to be proud, confident, and self-sufficient—to stand up for themselves,” Jaryo says.

Glenda’s three-year-old son is a big fan of the food she makes. “I have a really busy schedule,” she says. “He tells me, ‘Mommy, I’ll go to work for you.’ I tell him, ‘I’ll do the work. You go to school.’”

They like to spend their free time together in the kitchen. “He likes to make pancakes. I never knew how to make pancakes! When I cook at home, I always have him there next to me. He will clean the vegetables and we’ll cook together.” She adds, “I made a lot of mistakes. I want him to have what I didn’t have. I want him to do things right.”

Cooking has changed Glenda’s life. “When I look at food, it’s like looking at a picture. I like the little details. It’s fun to me. Cooking is something that you learn and it stays with you forever—no one can ever take that skill away.”


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