"Chef Campbell"

Veteran Takes a Big Step Toward a Brighter Future

Monday, April 29, 2019 by Christine Perez

Stephan Campbell walked in with his head held high and chest out, beaming from ear to ear. You could tell he was tired, but he didn’t look anywhere near his 57 years. “I worked a 13-hour shift yesterday. It was game day at Marlins Stadium.  I cooked from 7 am to 8 pm.”

Campbell grew up in a predominately black neighborhood in Trenton, New Jersey, before enlisting in the Airforce.  Serving from 1981-1987, Campbell worked in Aircraft and Disaster Maintenance.  When he entered civilian life, Campbell brought back some demons: a substance use disorder.  

“The culture of the military is you work hard, but you play hard.  After working more than 12 hours, we would be welcomed with kegs of beer.  We drank as much as we could before we needed to stop before our next shift.”

Besides his stepbrother, no one in his family that he knows of has a history of substance abuse. “When my mom drank a little too much, she just stopped.”  But it wasn’t so easy for Campbell.

Diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and secondary substance abuse disorder, Campbell used to look for anything to numb his depression, his “roommate” he likes to call it.  Throughout significant periods of time in his life, Campbell was able to keep it all together, maintain his depression and still use.  However, when he hit 40, the bottom fell out and everything came crashing down. From the ages of 40-57, Campbell suffered multiple bouts of homelessness.  Crashing on couches, living on the streets, he could never find any sense of stability. Then, “Thankfully, I turned to Veterans Affairs (VA) and they referred me to Camillus House.” 

Since enrolling in Camillus’ new Service Intensive Transitional Housing (SITH) program, things started to turn up.

“Everyone at Camillus is amazing, my counselor and case manager, Nelson and Yasmine, have done wonders for me. They both encouraged me to join the Miami Dade College Culinary Institute certificate program, but I was resistant at first.”

Campbell already had years of experience working in the kitchen, what could he learn in a 7-week program that he hadn’t already learned?  Offered a job by a friend’s father, Campbell started working as a dishwasher and slowly worked his way up.  “It was an incredibly busy day and Chef Bob turned to me and said, “Do you want to learn how to cook?”  Through his support, Campbell was able to work in kitchens for years, making a living but never knowing how to keep everything else in line.

Reluctantly, Campbell enrolled in the Miami Dade College Culinary Institute, a 7-week certificate program funded by Career Source South Florida and hosted at Camillus House. As part of Camillus’ comprehensive Workforce Development Initiative, individuals housed at Camillus can take part in the program.  With instruction in the classroom and an onsite kitchen, participants learned everything they need to transition to a career in the food service field from interview skills, business etiquette, knife techniques, proper food storage to how to make homemade pasta and bread. More importantly, they learn about life.

 “Chef Kyle, Tony and Frank (MDC instructors) taught me everything I needed to know. Frank, he kept me grounded, taught me the life skills I needed.”  Classes even included a field trip with prospective employers. Since enrolling in the program, Campbell has been offered two jobs. 

Today, life looks a little different for Campbell. Still enrolled in Camillus’ SITH program, Campbell attends treatment at the VA during the day, and works at his new job nights. Working at the Miami Marlins Stadium, Campbell proudly serves as a “Premium Cook.” 

Campbell is happy for the life he is building.  Working, going to treatment and saving, Campbell looks towards the future, moving into his own place, and continuing to be a part of his family’s life.  Campbell is on the right track, thanks to the vital support received from Camillus, the Miami Dade College Culinary Institute and the VA.

“Camillus gives you all the tools you need to thrive.  You have to choose to take it.”

Campbell is tired, but grateful.  Thanks to the help he received he proudly boasts, “I have a profession, not just a job.”  But the best part? “Yesterday, someone called me Chef.  I have never been called that in all my years in the kitchen. And you know what, I guess I am.”

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