Cooking Class for Special Needs - ChristianHorizons
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Cooking Class for Special Needs

Sharon Hill, Windsor Star

July 6, 2016

Onions were on the chopping block Monday for culinary students who may have been working with a knife for the first time.

Grip the knife handle like a handshake, said St. Clair College Chef Leo Grado who told the class his secret to chopping. He’s lazy and was going to let the knife do the work.

“Don’t tell anyone.”

Fifteen students with developmental disabilities are the first in the area to take a new course at St. Clair College called an introduction to culinary skills experience. The students, dressed in their white uniforms and hats, passed around an onion inspecting the chef’s first cut and could watch the chopping skills on televisions around the kitchen. Monday was the first day of their weeklong program and the students were eager to get cooking.

A few months ago, Christian Horizons and Community Living Essex County and Community Living Windsor approached the college about offering the course. The students will be given a certificate of participation at the end of the program and the hope is the course will help them find a job and lead to more courses for people with developmental disabilities.

Student Chris Giles, 23, said he wants to be a cook. He has worked in construction and hopes his new skills will help him land a job in a restaurant. “I just like to learn because it helps in the future.”

Christian Horizons CEO Janet Nolan, who is based out of the Kitchener office, said people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been left out of the workforce. She estimates there are thousands of employable people with a disability in Ontario. Communities are not whole until everyone is participating, she said.

“The reality is that people with intellectual or developmental disabilities have virtually no access to post-secondary career training in Ontario,” Nolan said.

Christian Horizons, a faith-based, non-profit organization which aims to serve people with exceptional needs, has been working with Humber College in Toronto and other colleges for the last two years to create post-secondary, career-focused training. Humber College offers a nine-month course in cooking.

Christine Matthews, the local program manager for the Link community participation program for Christian Horizons, said the skills could help students be safe in kitchens at home or find a job, perhaps as a prep cook. The students, who were interviewed before they signed up and paid a fee, range in age from 18 to 54.

Chef Grado said some of them had never used a knife and many were wowed by the industrial kitchen. “The enthusiasm and the desire is really high.”