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Cooking event helps prepare youth for independent living

One Hope United youth and staff in Sebring, Fla., recently enjoyed a four-day cooking event as part of an annual Intensive Summer Learning Experience, which aims to prepare teens for independence.

OHU partnered with the Lead agency, Case Management Organizations, for the event and this year encouraged group participation by all agency staff and employees, rather than hire a professional chef, as had been done in prior years.

“The teens were extremely involved and excited by the event and prepared some knock-your-socks-off foods,” said Michelle Ramirez, director of operations at OHU in Sebring. “They surpassed everyone’s expectations.”

Youth prepared four-course meals. Daily theme and menus were All-American Day, Southern Food Day, Latin American Day and Italian/Pizza day. They selected recipes, created shopping lists and traveled together to a local supermarket to shop, just as if they were living on their own. (This year they did not have to budget their food, but that will be added to next year’s curriculum).

A local church offered the use of its kitchen and facility, and Case Management Organizations provided the fiscal support.

The teens won prizes for their creations. One youth, who prepared delicious food, recently turned 18 and moved into his own home. “He cooked some mean hamburgers and was able to take the grill for his new place,” said Ramirez, who helped plan the event along with Life Coach Lisa Kinchen, Program Specialist Andre Davis and Family Support Worker Rachel Edenfield.

Each day there was a Chef Andre’s Corner, which featured a surprise delicacy. Items included eel sushi, goat stew, gator meatballs and calamari. Most of the youth sampled the items, even though they did not find out what they were until the end of the week. One youth liked the eel so much he took the leftovers to his peers in his group home.

The event went off without a hitch, except for when the steak and shrimp fell into the soap-filled sink just after completion; a minor finger injury caused by slicing; blackened fajitas; and a plastic cooking pan that was placed in the hot oven.

By the end of the experience the youth who participated acquired new skills and great memories. We look forward to the 2013 event!

Pictured: Andre Davis, program specialist in OHU’s Florida Region, helped plan a four-day cooking event to prepare youth for independent living. These gator meatballs were among the delicacies youth sampled.