Brandon Woodall was one of just eight students in the country selected as a 2022 DREAM Scholar by Achieving the Dream (ATD), the nation’s most comprehensive organization in advancing student success and equity.
Woodall, 28, from Elyria, has a lifelong passion for cooking and came to LCCC’s culinary arts program to achieve his goal of operating a successful catering company. In summer 2022 he will graduate with an associate degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management – Culinary Arts and become the first in his family to earn a college degree.
“Being named a DREAM Scholar really means a lot to me because not a lot of people that look like me and come from where I grew up get these kinds of opportunities,” Woodall said. “I’m honored to be selected and excited to represent LCCC.”
ATD DREAM Scholars are resilient community college students, determined to reach their goals and lift up their communities. As a DREAM Scholar, Woodall will participate in the virtual ATD DREAM Conference and complete a leadership program. As Woodall prepares for the DREAM conference, he has the full support of the LCCC community.
“All of us at Lorain County Community College are thrilled for Brandon. He is a drive student who came to his community college to turn his dreams into a reality,” said LCCC President Marcia J. Ballinger, Ph.D. “Through his passion for cooking and positive energy, Brandon makes an impact on everyone he meets and I can’t wait to see all he accomplishes as a DREAM Scholar.”
An inspiring example
Food has been a central theme to Woodall’s life. Growing up in inner city Cleveland, he lived next door to his aunt Valerie, who often cooked for the family and others in the neighborhood. Seeing the positive way people reacted to her meals – even during challenging times – inspired Woodall to follow her example.
“For me, food is common ground. Food brings people together, no matter the occasion,” Woodall said. “Cooking for someone and seeing the joy on their face is the best feeling.”
But it took some time for Woodall to turn his passion for food into a career goal. After high school, and again in his early 20s, Woodall briefly attended college and played on the school’s basketball team, but ultimately had to drop out due to a lack of funding and support services. Over the years, he worked a variety of jobs to make ends meet, but always kept his love of cooking.
In 2014 he moved to Elyria to start a family, and by 2018, he took a leap and turned his love of cooking into a career. He opened his own catering and private chef business, named Valerie’s Kitchen and Catering, in honor of his aunt. By March 2020, Woodall was ready to take the business to the next level with a storefront location. Then came the coronavirus pandemic.
“I had just signed the lease and then two days later, COVID shut everything down. The lease was rescinded and just like that, my dream was slipping away,” he said.
Creating a legacy
Seeking advice, he turned to his aunt, who encouraged him to enroll in culinary school. Once at LCCC, Woodall found a supportive environment where he could learn and nurture his dream. Under the mentorship of LCCC culinary arts program director Chef Adam Schmith, Woodall has excelled in his courses while continuing to operate his catering business. He has risen to the top of his class and during the summer, Woodall was one of eight culinary students selected to participate in a traveling culinary team that helped a new restaurant get off the ground in Columbus.
“Brandon is fast learner and an excellent chef,” Schmith said. “He is the type of person you want on your team, and I look forward to following his professional career.”
Outside of the classroom, Woodall has the support of his family, including his wife and their seven children.
“Everything I do is to create a legacy for my family,” Woodall said. “My goal of building something for the future is what keeps me going each day.”
As someone who has spent time on both sides of giving and receiving, Woodall places a priority on serving his community. He helped prepare hundreds of Thanksgiving meals with the LCCC culinary program that were donated to those in need. He also partners with the LCCC men’s basketball team with a goal to provide healthy, convenient meals to student athletes. As he continues toward his culinary degree and continues to develop his catering business, Woodall hopes his story inspires others who have a dream for their future.
“I hope whoever sees this steps out of their comfort zone and believes in themselves, like I did,” he said. “With the right support, like what I’ve found at LCCC, anything is possible.”