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Cooking for Christ

"Cooking for Christ" Continued...

Issue: "Focus on Mitt Romney," July 16, 2011

A man in his 50s who had never held a job for more than two months applied to the trade school. VTS director Victoria Queen, chaplain Alan Queen's wife, asked him, "How on earth will you finish a one-year program when you've never stayed anywhere longer than two months?" "Oh, I just will," he told her. She felt skeptical, but still felt led to accept the man. He did finish at VTS, and four years later remains at the same job.

That man is now an example of what Victoria Queen hopes for: students who emerge debt-free with leadership and management skills, sobriety, accountability, and deep Christian beliefs and behavior. That contrasts with the results of many trade schools, where students graduate with substantial debt but without depth of character.

VTS does not have statistics regarding the long-term career progress of graduates, but the stories are abundant and the program's reputation is strong, as WORLD first learned in 2007, when VTS was a finalist in our second annual Effective Compassion contest. Harriger states that most graduates continue to make professional and personal progress, but he recognizes that some decide not to go the distance: "We can only help someone so long. At some point, they have to become accountable. Sometimes the pull of the old life is too strong for that."

One VTS grad fared poorly on his first try after graduation, Victoria Queen recalls. He took a job at a start-up restaurant where the new-to-restaurant-management owners gave everyone an ill-advised "shift drink." The graduate plunged back into drinking. He'd taken the job against her advice, and recently returned to tell her she could say, "I told you so." She was too polite to say it, but she hopes he's giving sobriety another shot at a St. Louis rehab center.

Pork Chop Wallace says he merely believed in God before he arrived, but at VTS he's learned to trust Him: "You can learn as you go, and if you make mistakes, you can try to get it right next time." Wallace hopes to find a job as a cook at an Italian restaurant in Springfield, where the economic downtown seems to have bypassed restaurants. Bailey, who misses nothing about his hometown in Kansas, also hopes to find work in Springfield, but at a popular, casual place such as Cook's Kettle.

-Mary Hopkins is a Texas journalist

Video and photos by James Allen Walker for WORLD (jamesallenwalker.com)

Listen to a report on Victory Trade School on The World and Everything in It.

Victory Trade School

Location: Springfield, Mo.

Size: 17 full-time employees, 16 part-time volunteer faculty members

Number of VTS students: About 70. All have full scholarships or a combination of scholarships and Pell Grants to cover the cost of tuition ($6,000 per year), room and board ($9,100).

Annual Budget: $857,352

Website: victorymission.com

Read profiles of finalists and winners from 2006 through 2011 on WORLD's Hope Award page.

Following the rules

Springfield Victory Mission serves several levels of need. Men who come off the street can find shelter at Victory Square, which offers low-cost or no-cost lodging for men inside a former nursing home. Those unable to pay can bunk overnight with a free continental breakfast, but they must do chores, attend Bible and sobriety classes, and stick to an early curfew. They have free dinners as long as they attend Victory Mission weeknight chapel services. (They do not have to say anything or participate.)

Men in the Transitions program can stay at the Mission for up to 90 days, unless they break a group living rule. Most stay at least 30 days. Other men stay at the Lodge, which charges $8-$12 per night and invites guests to attend sobriety and Bible classes, or evening chapel (with a meal thrown in). Several Lodge residents have stayed more than two years.

Women can enter a separate live-in program that lasts one year, Victory House. This spring 11 women at Victory House were going through the New Life Program, which parallels PREP. VTS would like to have women in the Culinary Arts program but at present has no housing for them.

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