The students at Easter Seals Culinary Arts High School in Miami start their day in the kitchen at nine in the morning. They prepare and serve about 200 meals for the other children in the building, ages ranging from a few months to 22 years old.
“I like eggs, they can be very versatile, you can make a bunch of different type of eggs,” said 15-year-old Sebastian, student and chef assistant at the culinary arts high school.
The program is part of Easter Seals South Florida near Jackson Memorial Hospital, a community center dedicated to providing help and services to those with Alzheimer's, disabilities and children in the autism spectrum and other special needs.
Introduced in 1993, the year-round program includes after-school cooking classes and a summer camp. This is the first time the Easter Seals Culinary Youth Development program has been recognized by The Children’s Trust organization. They received the Champions for Children Award for program of the year this week.
“[The award] really makes us feel good about the work that we’re doing,” said Loreen Chant, president and CEO of Easter Seals.
More accessible programs are much needed in the community, Chant said.
The Children’s Trust funds the after-school and summer programs, making them available to families at no cost.
On a regular day, the students at the culinary program are divided into groups. Some will prepare the food ready for service, others will deliver the food and serve. Then, the last group will do the clean-up.
The program was designed to teach the 14- to 22-year-old students at the center basic job skills, as well as life and academic skills.
“Our goal for them is that when they leave and complete the program, that we will be able to help them in the community to find jobs,” said Wendy Zacca, the culinary instructor at Easter Seals. “I think it’s going to be an enormous advantage.”
Zacca runs the kitchen with the help of the students and volunteers, and has been culinary instructor since 2017.
Her student assistant, Sebastian, already sees himself pursuing a career in culinary arts in the future.
“After this I hope to land a job somewhere nice, fancy restaurant. Maybe as a chef assistant, something like that,” Sebastian said.