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A Cook Gives Back

Former homeless woman hasn’t forgotten those who helped turn her life around.

Michele More is no longer living out of her car and taking showers at the Lamb Center. Now she has a job and a roof over her head, but that isn’t keeping her away from the place and the people who helped her achieve so much.

"The Lamb Center not only feeds your belly but it feeds your spirit as well," said More, who now lives in Fort Belvoir.

More moved here from Tennessee with her long-time boyfriend, Don Bryant, who she refers to as her husband. Since Christmas time, the couple has used the services at the Lamb Center, a day shelter that provides food, prayer, employment and laundry services. They found out about the Lamb Center during one of the most difficult times in their lives, said More, and it helped them turn things around more than she hoped it would.

"If you knock, the doors will open," she said. "Since we’ve been here, my doors have opened beyond recognition."

Bob Wyatt, the Lamb Center’s executive director, is thrilled to see More and Bryant doing so well. They were still living out of their car a couple of months ago, and now they both work in the restaurant business at two Washington hotels. More is a pastry chef at the Grand Hyatt Washington, off H Street. Bryant works as a hot line cook at the Park Hyatt Washington, near Georgetown.

"For most of our guests, their first job is only a step toward the kind of really good employment that Michelle has already achieved," said Wyatt.

More stopped by the Lamb Center at lunchtime, Wednesday, April 25, and cooked lunch for the guests. She said it felt so good to come back and contribute something.

"Just because what I received from the Lamb Center, I feel like I personally have to give back," said More.

HOMELESSNESS IS SOMETHING that eats away at a person’s motivation, said Wyatt. When More and Bryant arrived at the Lamb Center, they hadn’t been homeless for very long. Bryant tried to get a job with a hospital in Reston that was affiliated with his former place of employment in Tennessee, but he never heard from them. He couldn’t find a job anywhere, and things began to spiral.

The Lamb Center encouraged them, though, said More. Wyatt said the couple thought their whole world had ended, but the Lamb Center staff "tried desperately to let them know that their life hadn’t totally been destroyed." The center also directed them to the Fairfax County Hypothermia Response Program, which provides overnight shelters and meals for the homeless during the winter months.

"The sooner we can help somebody when they get into homelessness, the quicker it is they can get out of homelessness," said Wyatt.

THE LAMB CENTER also discovered that More had received a Stafford Loan through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process. It was valid for the 2006-07 school year, so the staff helped her enroll in a culinary program at Northern Virginia Community College. She began taking classes on Jan. 15, and is almost finished with her first semester.

"I couldn’t get into school in Tennessee," said More. "By the grace of God, I came here, and everything came into place."

More was able to get ready at the Lamb Center. Dave Larrabee, Lamb Center’s director, helped her with gas money, bus tokens and food cards, she said. He led prayer sessions, let More use his computer on multiple occasions and tried to help her improve her credit score.

"Mr. Dave is just an awesome mentor," she said.

Patti Brown, who helps teach employment skills to the Lamb Center's guests, posts job listings on the wall in front of the phone at the Lamb Center, said More. "That’s how we learned about the Hyatt," she said.

Brown said they had work experience already, but just needed some direction and help finding jobs. More didn’t need a lot of help preparing for job interviews other than a little help with presenting herself, said Brown. "She’s a very gracious young woman."

Since finding jobs, the couple was able to rent a room near Fort Belvoir. More still travels to Annandale twice a week for school, and she always drops by the Lamb Center.

"She came in the other day and took some bread, and she’s bringing in bread pudding next week," said Brown.

COOKING IS A PASSION More developed as a young girl. Her parents divorced when she was 6, and she went to live with her father. He was in his 60s already, so More took on the role as chef of the household.

"I tried to do the best I could and provide what I thought was a good meal," she said.

She soon realized that baking was more her speed. She enjoys it because "it’s a creation," and she can’t wait to create more meals for the Lamb Centers guests she relates to so well. Her connection, she said, is what she can continue to do to help others, the way they have helped her. As soon as she has a break from school, she plans to produce more meals for the guests at the Lamb Center.

More is also working on a fund-raising project that would raise money for the Lamb Center. She’s trying to put together a cookbook that would include recipes from the different churches involved in the hypothermia shelter program.

"I’m very excited about the cookbook," said More. "I’ve wanted to put one together for so long, but I’ve never had a reason to create a fund-raiser cookbook."

For Wyatt and Larrabee, the Lamb Center is a place that gives to its guests with no expectation of receiving anything in return. They couldn’t be happier about More’s motivation not only in her career and education, but also in her service back to the Lamb Center.

"She’s just a wonderful example of what can happen," said Wyatt.