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Cooking and comfort on menu at cooking class for the disabled

By Joe Blundo, Columbus Dispatch
Published Sunday, November 19, 2017

When the Family & Friends Network cooks, food is only part of the nourishment.

The network is a volunteer group that conducts cooking classes twice a month for adults with developmental disabilities.

The chance to socialize — at the end of the class, everyone sits down to eat — is as important as the opportunity to learn to distinguish cilantro from parsley, organizers say. Maintaining friendships can be difficult for adults coping with mental challenges.

Volunteer Gwen Weihe, whose son, Tim, has disabilities, said he enjoys the cooking, but being with friends is what he really craves.

“Tim has loved it,” Weihe said. “It’s a time when they’re all together.”

The classes started six years ago with a high learning curve.

“Some of them had never held a paring knife before,” Weihe said.

The classes take place at the Columbus headquarters of Goodwill, the nonprofit organization that provides training, job placement and work programs for people with developmental disabilities.

Many of the students live independently and hold jobs, so cooking skills are important.

James Lelonek, 56, has an apartment near Goodwill and works at Giant Eagle. He was helping to prepare a stir-fry of ground turkey and vegetables at a class last week.

Lelonek said he cooks for himself regularly, although he doesn’t get too fancy.

“Sometimes I cook chicken, corn on the cob. Sometimes I might make a sandwich, cook a TV dinner or something.”

Cooking is only part of what the Friends & Family Network does. Volunteers, many of whom are relatives of the students, also organize social events, plan trips, offer advice on money management and teach other life skills, such as gardening.

At the class last week, the students weren’t just cooking for themselves. They were preparing side dishes for their annual “Thanks-for-Giving” dinner two days later. They invite people who have helped them throughout the year, including visiting chefs, dietitians and Goodwill staff members.

The students made a Mexican dip and a cream-cheese spread to supplement the main course, supplied by City Barbeque.

Six years years of cooking lessons has also resulted in the “Good Eats Cookbook,” a 157-page compilation of simple entrees, side dishes and desserts, with nutrition information. (It’s available for $20 at Goodwill, 1331 Edgehill Road, or $25 by emailing and requesting mail delivery.)

The students are particularly proud of their gingersnap cookies. They have also learned what all cooks do about the suspense of making something new and hoping it tastes good.

“Sometimes it comes out right,” said Austin Shirk, 24, “and sometimes it’s a mistake.”


This article has been reproduced for educational purposes only and appeared in the Columbus Dispatch. The original story can be found at:

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