Wish upon a Starfish: First grad ‘transformed’ by program
By Cassandra Favre
Sep 13, 2013, 22:33
Diana Fillhart and son Chef Zac proudly present Toby with his graduation certificate from the café.
On Friday, Tobias Collins became the sole graduate of the Starfish Café's first culinary class.
"The class started out with three students," PNEUMA Winds Executive Director Diana Fillhart said. "Two of the students had to leave for personal reasons and Toby stuck with it."
A Lost Cause
"I grew up in Bay St. Louis," Collins said. "I didn't think I had a lot of leadership abilities.
"After Hurricane Katrina, I spun out of control and started hanging with the wrong people."
"I did more hanging out instead of working," Collins said.
"Before the Starfish, he didn't really have the desire to work and stay on a job," Collins' mother Tabitha Collins said.
Life Changing Decision
"I overheard my good friend Lili Stahler talking about the café's program," Collins said. "I told her to get me an application.
"I always wanted to cook and this gave me the opportunity to cook better food."
"I was real nervous when I had my interview," Collins said. "I looked down a lot and didn't make a lot of eye contact.
"This is a life-changing program," Collins said. "By the 10th week, you're changing, whether you want to or not."
Collins said he has learned knife skills, how to interact with others and inner confidence.
"I recommend this program to anyone who wants to change themselves," Collins said.
A Boy's Transformation
"He has transformed from this shy boy to a very confident and courageous young man," Fillhart said. "I'm so proud of him, he has done a great job.
"He is creative, genuine and committed.
"This shy little boy has now blossomed," café-patron Mary Kay Deen said. "His obvious confidence and radiant smile is just joyful.
"He is living the beautiful person he was meant to be."
"This is a big step for him," Fillhart said. "This is transformation at its best."
"Toby is a prime example of a café student," Starfish Café program assistant Melinda Boudreaux said. "He has shown an impressive change in his life and professional image.
"I'm definitely going to miss his sense of humor and initiative."
"He's a pretty good boy," Tabitha Collins said. "He's good to his mother."
"I've known this family for 13 years," Ward One Waveland Alderman Lili Stahler said. "I'm his grandmother in spirit.
"We are quite proud of him. He has become more self-assured, outgoing, speaks up and has more self-confidence."
Hope for the Needy
Starfish Café is owned and operated by the non-profit organization PNEUMA Winds of Hope.
Incorporated in 1998, PNEUMA spent the early years in Brooklyn, NY aiding those in need of food, clothing, resources and training.
Since Hurricane Katrina, "we have been working towards a full and complete recovery for Bay St. Louis," Fillhart said.
In October 2012, PNEUMA signed a lease for the Starfish Café.
A Culinary Journey
The café offers a 20-week experiential restaurant learning program for students ages 18-30.
"The students cook, serve, cashier and help maintain the café," Fillhart said.
Students are also educated on "life coaching, anger management, financial literacy and writing workshops."
"If you have kids not going in the direction you want them to go, point them in the direction of the Starfish," Tabitha Collins said.
"This program is wonderful," Stahler said. "Students are not just learning how to run a restaurant, they are learning about life."
Now that he has graduated, Collins will be going to work at 200 North Beach Restaurant in Bay ST. Louis.
What's in a Name?
"Our name comes from Loren Easley's 1978 short story,'The Star Thrower,' Fillhart said. "The man in the story encounters beached starfish and returns the fighting starfish back to the sea.
"We help young adults washed up on the shore of life become productive and successful members of the community."
The café is now taking applications for students ages 18-30. Starfish Café is located at 211 Main St. in Bay St. Louis.
Check out the café's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pages/Starfish-Café/472900602784352 for a menu and updates on daily specials.