Program in Richmond helps young adults with disabilities learn culinary skills

Program teaches culinary skills to disabled

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A program in Richmond is helping young adults with disabilities gain skills in the culinary arts.

tABLEspoons allows for special needs students to learn how to cook and bake, while also preparing them for the workforce.

It’s a part of The Next Move Program, a nonprofit that partners with businesses to create internship experiences for young adults with disabilities.

“tABLEspoons is a unique offering we’re able to provide to our students,” Co-founder Elizabeth Redford said. “We’re still focused on soft skills development and preparing young adults with special needs for the work force but through tablespoons we’re specifically focused on culinary arts and entrepreneurship.”

The program idea was curated at random.

“This specific program came about because we had a friend who was a professional baker,” Redford said. “When this baking friend reached out and said I have a kitchen and I certainly have the credentials to do some culinary arts instruction, we jumped at it. At first it was a way to extend beyond the classroom and train our students on some independent living skills and then it really took off.”

The program, that is in a pilot stage, meets once a week at Independence Golf Club in Midlothian to bake and for on site instruction.

The club allows the program to use the kitchen for free.

The students work with Brittany Falabella, a baker who owns Sugar Britches Sweets & Treats LLC. They bake a variety of treats like oatmeal cream pies and unicorn cookies and then sell them at the South Of James Farmers Market.

“It’s going over recipes, a lot of math involved with that and then at the market its client interaction, sales skills,” Falabella said.

The students who are part of tABLEspoons do more than just bake.

“They handle everything from inventory and ordering to selling to customers,” Redford said. “They are involved in marketing, packaging, they go to catering events and they really get to be a part of the entire process.”

Christopher Brennan, a graduate of The Next Move Program has gotten involved with tABLEspoons.

“It gives me something to do and I love The Next Move Program,” Brennan said.

Shelley Lantz, who says she volunteered with the Next Move Program and is now a part-time employee, loves participating in the tABLEspoons program.

“We have to mix all the ingredients for oatmeal cream pies,” Lantz said. “My favorite is selling them at the market because I like it and I like the customers too.”

Redford is in the midst of expanding tABLEspoons too, first, with a Virginia Department of Education partnership.

“So this exact program, so far it’s been in pilot stage but it’ll be launching later this fall and will actually be an after school offering for the special needs community tied to technical center programs,” Redford said. “Specifically, we’re starting out with Chesterfield County Public Schools and the goal is to replicate that throughout the region. They will be connected to their transition team at the school level but our staff will run the experience. It’ll be an after school program they participate in, one day a week, it’ll be at their school systems technical center so they’ll get to do all the training we do here and all the classroom instruction we do here, but just at that site.”

But the program’s main goal is to build their own bakery which they have already raised $80,000 for.

“Our goal is to eventually build a space where we can offer internships for young adults with special needs, largely again through that partnership with the Virginia Department of Education but also offer some opportunities for employment for some of these older adults who went through the program for quite a while and are incredibly skilled.”

For more information on The Next Move Program, you can visit their website.

Copyright 2018 WWBT. All rights reserved.