Somo Wulah was beaming as she watched her daughter, Belloh, graduate from The Kitchen School, a new Food Bank of Delaware program that trains young adults with intellectual disabilities to work in a kitchen.
“I’m so happy for her,” Wulah said. “It’s something she wanted. She said, ‘I want to be a chef. I want to cook.’ Her dream came true.”
After completing the free 12-week program, Belloh was able to get a job working in the cafeteria at P.S. DuPont Middle School.
“Her potential is there. They helped her maximize it and live her best life,” Wulah said. “I always told her she can do anything. This is an example of that.”
Belloh was among five students who were part of The Kitchen School’s first class and graduated during a brief ceremony Jan. 26. Each student already has a job lined up or is weighing multiple job offers.
“I like to call this class my class of special abilities because they all are special in their own little unique way,” chef instructor Ron Roll said. “Some people think that when you work with disabilities, that it’s difficult. If you have a little patience and a little tolerance, good things happen.”
During the program, which is funded by a grant from the Delaware Department of Labor, students spend six weeks learning cooking skills, kitchen safety, sanitation protocols and more in the Food Bank’s industrial kitchen inside its Glasgow warehouse. The students then spend another six weeks transitioning to permanent employment through on-site job coaching, and they also have an opportunity to earn their ServSafe food handler certificate.
The Food Bank partners with restaurants and other companies to find jobs that match the students’ skills and desires, and Food Bank staff will provide support for students and employers for at least a year after graduation. Participating employers include Buffalo Wild Wings, Eggspectation, Shoprite and Giant.
The Food Bank has offered a culinary school for several years to train unemployed and underemployed Delawareans for a new career in food service. The Kitchen School expands that effort and is the first step in the Food Bank’s new initiative to assist people with disabilities.
“This represents a dream come true and actually the first step of a lot of dreams that are ahead of us,” said Food Bank CEO Cathy Kanefsky, whose 31-year-old twin sons have autism and other disabilities.
A second class of Kitchen School students will begin in February, and the Food Bank is making an effort to hire disabled people throughout its organization, including in the kitchen, the warehouse and on its farm.
“This makes all the sense in the world. We have jobs here at the Food Bank that are perfect matches for people with intellectual disabilities,” Kanefsky said. “Almost any task can be broken down to be something that someone with an intellectual disability can pick up and do.”
She emphasized that the jobs Kitchen School graduates receive are a far cry from charity. The students can be valuable employees, especially as businesses face staffing shortages.
“These folks are dependable, reliable, happy, eager. They come to work with a smile on their face,” Kanefsky said. “A lot of the jobs that these folks end up getting tend to be somewhat repetitious or mundane, where other people that don’t have a disability don’t want to do that work. Routine gives them comfort, so coming in, day in, day out. and doing the same thing is not boring to them.”
Kanfesky, whose son Sam works in the Food Bank’s kitchen, said she sees firsthand that many people with disabilities are excited to work and can make valuable contributions to the workforce.
“I don’t know who along the way decided that just because you’re born with a disability, that you should volunteer the rest of your life and not be valued and get the opportunity to earn a living,” she said.
Post a comment as anonymous
Watch this discussion.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
No links. Comments containing links to outside websites will be deleted.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.