By Lisa Petrillo

MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Shirley Joseph was struggling when she first came to Lotus House three years ago. At age 23 she was homeless with no family to turn to for help.

“My mom and dad’s (parental) rights were taken away when I was a child,” she recalls having this tough time, being in a lot of different facilities.

Today, with the support of Lotus House, a nonprofit shelter for women and children in Miami, this mother of two young children has an apartment, a job and a future. Shirley is one of 92 women to take part in Lotus House’s working classroom kitchen, The David and Leila Centner Culinary Center, which opened in 2018. When CBS4 News interviewed her in March of 2019 she was grateful for a new job in the kitchen.

“I do everything, I do prep, dishwasher, clean, I cook the food, all types of things,” Shirley says. “It is awesome. Something that you didn’t get to learn, and then you have people that are great at it, and they teach you.”

David Centner is a successful serial entrepreneur who grew up in Miami. He and his wife Leila’s charitable donations here and abroad are working to end the cycle of poverty. David explains how the kitchen is doing that.

“The culinary center really spoke to our heart because it teaches women skills so that they can then go out and be gainfully employed. It’s got all the bells and whistles, so the people who graduate or emerge from this program have more than just food skills food safety skills they can work in some of the highest end hotels and restaurants in Miami.”

For Leila Centner, the mission is personal.

“I grew up very poor so I wanted to be able to not just give women money or food or what not but help women change their own lives. Watching my mom really struggle, she’d moved here from another country, I didn’t have a dad, and I saw that without the assistance and support that she had around here, I may not be where I am today.”

The kitchen is the hearth of Lotus House, more sanctuary than shelter. That is how Executive Director Constance Collins sees it.

“We provide both a home and wraparound support system: child and family therapies; individual counseling; group counseling to job readiness training,” she says. “All the skills and expertise and confidence and self-esteem that enables you to be prepared and go out into the world and build a new life.”

For Shirley this means everything.

“It gives you hope that there are people out there that really care and that are really willing to do things for you, the feeling is wonderful.”

Constance has seen the change in Shirley.

“I see a very young woman who has become an extraordinary mother. Someone who is standing on her own two feet now, that’s an amazing transformation to watch.”

Lotus House guests are women and children ranging from 86 years to brand new babies. And Shirley now has moved to administrative position at Lotus House. You can learn how you can support this organization by visiting their website at

Lisa Petrillo