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Making a Difference: Local chef trying to help combat crimes in Johnstown

A local chef is making a difference in Johnstown by teaching kids about cooking and helping them make the right choices. (WJAC)

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. - In this week's making a difference, a chef is using his skills in the kitchen to try to combat crime in Johnstown.

He's helping kids find the perfect ingredient for a productive life and he has plans for a unique restaurant that will help others succeed.

Derrick Johnson is cooking up something for Johnstown.

He has spent over 3 decades working in the restaurant business in different states and with all kinds of food.

Now, he's whipping together fresh, authentic Lebanese cuisine at Lazarus Cafe in the Moxham section of the city.

He's not just changing how people eat, the executive chef is changing lives too.

“I’ve always had that spirit of wanting to help people, wanting to steer people away from the pitfalls that I have seen or actually been through myself,” Johnson said.

Johnson is trying to reverse the pattern of crimes and violence... By connecting with the community. He invites children of all ages from the neighborhood to a class at the cafe every Sunday.

He teaches them about food, culture and history, but also wants to help them succeed in life.

“Being a young man from Philadelphia, I've had my run ins with the law,” Johnson said.

After being incarcerated, Johnson wanted to help others.

He gives advice and shows the kids they can rise above hard times.

"What I want to do is develop more of a passion. In the process of teaching them the food, I'll also be trying my best to mentor them about life, what to expect when you get older, things you need to be prepared for... from the financial aspect to just making all the best decisions,” Johnson said. “Teaching them that a mistake doesn’t define who you are, it’s what you do after the mistake that defines who you are."

Johnson certainly has his plate full. He's also in the process of starting a social impact restaurant in the city.

It will offer a program for at-risk youth, ex-offenders and people in drug recovery... To help them earn accreditation through the American Culinary Federation. It will be called the Social Butterfly.

"In order for a community to become healthy and strong, it’s not just the agency and law enforcement responsibility but the community as a whole. Not to actually interact with individual but help and make sure there are things in place so we can kind of curb this behavior and bring forth some desistance in committing crimes, desistance in using drugs, desistance in behaviors that are unacceptable for a healthy community." Johnson said.

This chef isn't going to stop stirring up ideas, until he's done creating the perfect recipe for bringing hope to Johnstown.

"Looking at the direction my life could have went and looking in the direction I went... I just feel gratitude and I think that the best way to show my gratitude is to be able to maybe save someone who wants to be saved or guide someone who wants to be guided,” Johnsons said.

Johnson’s community hour with the kids is every Sunday at Lazarus Cafe at 2 p.m.

He's hoping his social impact restaurant will be able to open soon. To complete the culinary program that will be available there, people will have to go through 1-thousand hours of training.

Derrick will also be starting a podcast on crime and reform. He is also working on putting together a reality show about ex-offenders re-entering society.

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