Cooking Up a Fresh Start

Homelessness has been a part of John’s life, off and on, from a very young age.

As a small child, he lived in abandoned buildings with his mother until she got remarried to a police officer who provided a home for them in Canarsie, Brooklyn.


After high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy during which time he traveled extensively before being stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan—an experience that affected him deeply.

Upon his discharge, John returned to New York City to find that his family had moved without telling him.

Once again, he found himself homeless—and this time, alone.

John spent years moving in and out of shelters and sometimes living on the street. Although he had no permanent address, he managed to pick up work where he could, and over the years was employed by a kosher deli and multiple restaurants, including the now-defunct Planet Hollywood.

All these experiences helped John stay afloat during difficult times, but they also helped him develop a love for cooking.

In 2019, John finally found permanent supportive housing with Volunteers of America-Greater New York (VOA-GNY), which totally changed the trajectory of his life. With a stable roof over his head, he was finally able to focus on putting his life back together.

Today, John adores the privacy of his living space, which he notes, “has a really nice kitchen.” He also enjoys nurturing the plants that are part of the hydroponic garden that was gifted to residents by Colgate-Palmolive, one of VOA-GNY’s long-time corporate partners. John uses the harvest to make salads for his fellow residents, in addition to helping them with laundry and shopping.

John values the support he receives from VOA-GNY staff. They not only connected him with mental health counseling to address the PTSD that he suffered after serving in the military, but also referred him to a culinary training program to help him fulfill his dream of becoming a chef.

“I owe it all to VOA-GNY. If not for them, I don’t know where I’d be. It’s an amazing organization.

After completing the program, John told VOA-GNY staff about his desire to open his own restaurant, so they connected him with the names of organizations that provide small business loans to veterans.

Determined to bring his dream to life, John followed up with those organizations and managed to secure funding. Soon after, he secured a rental space in Upper Manhattan, where he plans to open his own restaurant.

“I owe it all to VOA-GNY,” says John. “If not for them, I don’t know where I’d be. It’s an amazing organization.”

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