Sarita Landrum was the featured speaker at the 2019 Cara Summer Social. The below is taken from her speech that evening.
“I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago. I lived in a single parent household with my mother. I was a good student and stayed in the girl scouts until high school. All my life, I believed in the value of hard work. I had a job managing a BBQ house in Chicago Heights, but after my uncle died, who was like a father to me, I wanted to be able to take care of my family so I wanted something more.
“I started working at Fifth Third Bank as a customer service representative. I soon began to excel and got promoted to a financial service representative. I thought my life was on the right track, but I had a flaw. I had a hard time saying ‘no’ to people. I wanted people to like me. I wanted to fit in. This ended up costing me five years of my life.
“I met this guy. He drove nice cars, was charming, and promised me things. I couldn’t see him for what he really was and how he was taking advantage of me and my job. I let him persuade me to commit mail fraud. I had no idea what I was doing or the weight of it. He assured me I wasn’t doing anything wrong and I was young and naïve, so I believed it. But from that decision, I was sentenced to federal prison for 5 years.
“Here I was 25, climbing the corporate ladder, active in my church and community, now on my way to prison. I was in denial, devastated, embarrassed, and alone. But I also decided I wasn’t going to let my time in prison define who I was. I worked on the outside, so I was going to work on the inside.
“While I was incarcerated I held many jobs. One of the assignments that I took to heart was a job in the kitchen. I was promoted to a grade 1 cook. I planned holiday meals, I supervised a kitchen staff, and even cooked for the prison guards.
“It was very important to me that I didn’t lose who I was while incarcerated.
Sarita telling her story at the 2019 Summer Social
“When I was released in January 2016, I lived in a halfway house on the west side of Chicago. There I met a young lady who told me about a program giving out bus cards. All I could think was “I’m not looking for a handout.” I wanted to work, I wanted to get myself together. But that was how I found Cara.
“My first experience with Cara was Motivations. The clapping, the singing, the stories…I must admit I was little paranoid. I thought to myself “how could anyone be so cheerful this early in the morning!” But before I knew it, I became one of those cheerful people. One of the exercises that had a huge impact on my life was the mirror exercise.
“This involved looking at myself – really looking at myself – in the mirror and describing what I saw. I learned a lot about myself that day.
“And I began to find a common thread. I wanted people to like me so I could like me. I was looking for acceptance. But what I came to realize was I didn’t need validation from anyone. From that moment on I began seeking out what was in my best interest. What did Sarita’s goals look like? What did I want to do professionally?
“So I started my job search. It took me awhile to know what exactly I wanted to do but Cara was there to help. Through Cara, I got a job with Entertainment Cruises, working on the Spirit of Chicago as a server. That was in June 2016. That September, I interviewed, got offered, and accepted a job at Northwestern University as a catering cook. I was so ecstatic.
“I worked both jobs for a year. And then I began to feel that feeling again of wanting something better for myself. So I decided to enroll in culinary school to continue my education.
“In August 2017, I started at Washburne Culinary and Hospitality Institute. I have been on the Dean’s list for every semester and this November I will be graduating with my degree in culinary arts. And yet I am still striving for more. My next goal is to become a catering coordinator and own my own business.
“I want to thank Cara for giving me a starting place. My hope for the hundreds of others that Cara serves each year is for them to find what I have found in Cara – which is a place of encouragement, a place of support, and a place of hope. Cara refined and defined me!”
Celebrate our participants and alumni at this year’s first-ever virtual Cara Summer Social presented by Slalom, Advanced Group, and The Beebe Family on Thursday, August 27, 2020. Join us for an evening of food and beverage demos, music, and special guests hosted by the Cara Associate Board. RSVP and consider making a donation that will be matched dollar for dollar thanks to our friends at Creation Investments. Visit https://carachicago.org/social.