Give Maximo Paulino a piece of raw chicken, and he’ll turn it into a gourmet meal.
Featuring red peppers, oregano, and garlic, with just a touch of his secret Spanish sauce — his chicken ranks among the best, he said with pride.
When he completes a three-year sentence for drug possession, Paulino hopes to bring his cooking skills to a well-stocked, professional kitchen.
“If I make you chicken, I promise you will like it,” the 64-year-old said in Spanish.
Paulino was among more than 130 people who graduated Tuesday from a job training program at the Pine Street Inn, a Boston homeless shelter. Participants, many of whom had struggled with substance abuse and been homeless, learned a host of basic job skills, from building maintenance to housekeeping to cooking chicken at the proper temperature.
“They learn things as simple as how to mop the floor,” said Emilio Baez, an administrator with the program for 13 years. “They learn that they need two buckets, one for dirty water and one for clean. And they learn that if they mop the floors with wax instead of water, it won’t leave any streaks.”
Baez has a firsthand look at how students change as they move through the 8- to 24-week program. At first nervous and often angry at their circumstances, they quickly begin to change once they realize what they are capable of, Baez said.
Roberta Brown, the class valedictorian, came to the program after a series of medical and mental health problems caused her to lose her job, her apartment, and her two young children.
“I found myself in a women’s inn at Pine Street, and thought I would never move on,” she said in a speech to the graduates. “But I’ve learned to advocate for myself and believe in myself.”
Many people came to the program after serving time behind bars, while others had faced personal struggles for years.
Jason Rigueur, 40, was in jail for 2½ years for gun possession, and 31-year-old Emmanuel Davila-Pagan served time for drunk driving. Shannon Pickett, 42, spent four years shuffling from shelter to shelter between Massachusetts and North Carolina.
In his keynote address, Governor Charlie Baker congratulated the graduates on working hard to get where they are today.
“I think it is fair to say that your lives have taken far more turns than most,” he said. “And those are turns in many cases that would break lesser people, and have in the past. But you stuck it out, in one way or another. You found a way to take the first step in a long walk.”
Students said the program gave them confidence. They learned they can hold a job, make their own money, and take control of their lives.
Paulino said he worked at a jewelry store for 23 years before he went to jail. But now, his heart lies in the kitchen.
While he aspires to cook for crowds of people at a large restaurant, his biggest dream is to cook in a much smaller kitchen — inside the house he hopes to own.