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Ursula Story


2017 Graduate
Cook at Alexandria Public Schools

It’s 11:05AM and the kitchen is bustling, “Pizzas are done in 4”  “Sandwiches ready for stations 2 and 6?” “Let’s do final touches on veggie wraps and get them out.” … Ursula is a whirlwind of energy and she loves what she does.  She is in charge of the kitchen in a middle school in Alexandria, where she and her team serve over 1300 children everyday. “I give it 100% of my energy and do my very best for the children. … I love it when they see me in the halls and call me Chef!”   

Ursula never imagined she’d pursue a career in the food industry.  Originally from Peru, she was a professional painter and had been very engaged the arts in Lima.  But several years ago she came to the U.S. to join her husband and as an immigrant her world shifted.  Unable to speak the language, raising her young daughter, trapped in a difficult relationship and confronting illness – these were hard and lonely times.  Then she heard about an opportunity at La Cocina VA and discovered a means to build a new career and become independent.  “La Cocina transformed my life!  Practically everything I do in my work today, they taught me at La Cocina. It was not only learning the culinary skills, but how to plan, work with others, organize your finances, set your goals…. Nowadays I don’t think about my past, the troubles that once overwhelmed me seem small. La Cocina helped give me the tools and the means to focus on my future.”

After graduating from La Cocina VA, Ursula worked as a Sous Chef in a popular Alexandria restaurant before getting the full time position at the school.  She really enjoys working with her team, looks forward to creating new menu ideas for the children, and has found that food presentation is also a work of art.  She feels strongly that “Whatever job you do, do it well, and give it your best.  It’s all about believing in yourself and keeping a positive attitude.”   

 Ursula has her sites set for the years to come:  improve her English, become a U.S. citizen, work her way up in food service management, and get her own apartment with her daughter.  And when they do find a place together, “I’ll hang up my certificates from La Cocina.  It took a lot of hard work to earn them, and it means so much to me!”


By making a tax-deductible donation to La Cocina VA, you can:

  • Create job opportunities for unemployed members of our community
  • Facilitate access to healthier meals for our neighbors in need