Leadership and teamwork were on the menu recently, as members of the JEVS Kitchen Table program took part in a “Chopped”-style cooking challenge in North Philadelphia.

The contest, known as Teen Battle Chef, was the third annual for members of Kitchen Table—and featured competition from members of the Stephen and Sandra Sheller 11th Street Family Health Services Center.

“Each year, the competition has been a little bit bigger and better, and our partnerships with the Family Health Services Center (of Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions) and the John F. Street Community Center (which hosted the event), as well as the longstanding relationship we have with the Achieving Independence Center, ensured that the team members had a wonderful showcase for their hard work and commitment,” said Rose Skolnick, program manager of Kitchen Table.

Designed to allow youth to challenge themselves and test their culinary skills, this year’s competition featured two teams, serving appetizers, main courses and dessert to judges and approximately 50 guests. Along with new skills and an appreciation for food, the competitors realized gains in their communicative skills and increases in their self-esteem.

“Food is the language that we all speak,” said Liam, a member of Kitchen Table, who is thinking about going to culinary school after he graduates. “I learned about ingredients, and realized that I could change things up if I didn’t like it.”

Sherice agreed. “I really enjoyed the experience and felt like I made new friends.”

Making friends is a great benefit of the Kitchen Table program, which draws its members from the Achieving Independence Center. AIC serves out-of-home care youth who are transitioning to independent living, and learning to cook for oneself is a valuable skill and tool for other independent endeavors.

“I’m learning with them,” said Yalanda Lewis, instructor of Kitchen Table. “The relationships that are built with and between the members; they think I’m helping them, but they’re inspiring me! For a tryout, we made a fricassee, and several said, ‘We’re not eating this,’ so I said, ‘It’s not my favorite, but we’re going to go through this together.’”

This feeling of togetherness and solidarity was felt throughout the competition, which included participating partners from AstraZeneca Healthcare Foundation, FNC and the Department of Human Services, and most of all by the members themselves, who will take skills learned—and friendships made—and be able to apply them to their own independent living situations, wherever they go.

“I didn’t know how the experience would be,” said Destiny, noting that it wasn’t really important who would win the competition. “But as a team, it made us strong.”

Posted in Blog JEVS Service: Youth & Young Adult