The conga line of black-and-white portraits on the wall above the serving counter at Stone Soup Cafe keeps getting longer. The soup kitchen they oversee in downtown Fairbanks feeds people who otherwise might eat nothing. Many of the men and women in the portraits were once among them. They are graduates of Stone’s Throw, a culinary job-training program designed to jump-start people’s lives.

Hannah Hill is executive director of the Bread Line, which oversees both programs plus the Stone Soup Garden and Kids Cafe, a program for children and families that addresses poverty.

“One of our most recent graduates, she’d been eating at the soup kitchen for quite a few years,” Hill said. “She kept telling me how much she wanted to see her face up on that wall. And I said, ‘Well then, you’ve got to come to the program.’”

And now there she is up there in a white chef’s coat, her portrait among those on the east wall.

Another with severe addictions, learning disabilities and a brain injury had been in and out of prison her entire adult life. When she entered the program, it became obvious she didn’t see well. And once she felt safe enough, she revealed she couldn’t read.

Bread Line staff members aren’t social workers, but they know where they live. They set her up with glasses from the Lions Club and tutoring from the Literacy Council of Alaska. At times houseless, she not only graduated and found work, she joined Toastmasters and became a Bread Line board member.

Tuition for the 12-week program is free, paid in volunteer time. The employment rate for graduates is 85%.

“We provide tools,” Hill said. “Our students do the work. They just need another chance.”

Life skills and self-affirmation are woven throughout.

Liann Peryea was three months out of treatment for a substance abuse problem she’d struggled with her whole life. 

“I’d burned a lot of bridges in Fairbanks, and was looking for a springboard to get back into employment,” she said. “I’d been out of work for about seven years.

“I came here and learned basic culinary skills, but the life skills were also important. These were things I’d never had exposure to. A lot of things go with being successful when trying to transition out of street life into a productive one.”

After working various culinary jobs, Peryea returned to the Bread Line, where she’s now a chef instructor.

“I’ve been able to build my career as a chef. I’ve been able to make connections in the community. I’ve been able to provide for my family. 

“It’s been monumental and life-changing.”