“Just about everyone I knew growing up was in a gang,” DeAndre recalls of growing up in the Woodlawn neighborhood. Woodlawn has a history of violent gang rivalry, largely over the local drug trade, and DeAndre was caught in the middle of it. “It was all I saw, that way to make a living… I had kids early with my girl, who I’m now married to, and I wanted to provide a nice life for them.”
After years of selling drugs and landing short stints in Cook County Jail, DeAndre hit a turning point. In 2003 he entered Cook County Boot Camp, a detention program focused on basic discipline, education, and vocational training. “Boot Camp changed me. I studied on my feet, literally. We had to stand up and study for the GED. I dropped out of high school. But in 2004, I finished Boot Camp and got my GED.”
After Boot Camp, DeAndre had a steady job for 5 years, but in 2010 he found himself unemployed. As hard as he tried to find a full-time job, doors were constantly shut in his face because of his background. The temporary contract work that he was able to land was not enough. He wanted something steady.
In 2012 DeAndre entered our Employment Training Program and excelled. Not only did he gain job skills, but he also got part of his criminal record sealed, completed seven culinary classes at Washburne Culinary Institute, applied for a health care worker waiver, earned his ServSafe Manager certificate, and, in 2013, got a full-time job offer to work as an Urban Farm Assistant at Growing Home. Now, as a Crew Leader, he trains Production Assistants.
He has also become a role model to the community. “I talk to a lot of my guys now and tell them about Growing Home. But I can’t make them ready if they don’t want it themselves. So many guys are stuck in the streets. But I know I can deliver a powerful message. And Growing Home is part of that message.”