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Culinary skills program cooking up confidence

SALISBURY – Kids at Work, a culinary arts and interpersonal skills program for at-risk youth, recently started a class in Rowan County.

The program holds classes each Tuesday at Shady Grove Baptist Church, 600 S. Long St. in East Spencer. The program educates teenagers in culinary arts. Students train with a certified chef who teaches them about the proper use of knives, food safety temperatures and sanitation.

But it’s not just about culinary skills. The program offers an experienced staff’s help to at-risk youths with behavioral issues by teaching coping skills and helping teens with decision-making. The classes cover topics such as understanding body language, social media dangers, positive expression, and how to properly respond to difficult situations and scenarios.

“Each course teaches at-risk youths how to deal with things differently, how not to fight, and how to walk away. They get that part of it, and they also learn culinary,” said Chef Kandace Granford. “It’s a really good program. I’ve been with the company almost six months now.”

Granford said the program aims to prepare students for the workforce and for college. Food safety certification and employment assistance are provided for those ages 15 to 18.

“They wear chef hats and chef coats. It is very professional,” Granford said.

The nonprofit group Aspire Youth & Family, which is based in the Asheville area and runs the Kids at Work program, operates in 13 counties, including nearby Davie and Davidson. Granford is the chef for classes in Stanly and Forsyth counties as well in Rowan.

And, Granford said, the program is free.

Classes meet one to two days a week from 4 to 7 p.m. and are held for 20 weeks at a time at various locations. Each class has as many as 10 students.

“If we receive more than 10 students, we will then place them on a waiting list. As soon as a child graduates from the program, we can then enroll a new student,” Granford said. “We have about five kids in our Rowan County class, and I would like to have about 10.”

She said students now in the Rowan County program attend West Rowan High and Erwin Middle schools.

The students are often assigned separate food items to prepare in class.

“One student may prepare Asian chicken, another may boil rice, another student may cut up carrots, while another may cook green beans,” Granford said. “After preparing our meals, I show them exactly how to plate them as you would in a restaurant.”

Granford said the program often receives positive feedback from graduates.

“A lot of graduates often send photos of food they’ve made and sometimes even offer students internships,” she said. “Kids go off and go on to culinary school and often move on to work in restaurants.”

While Granford is a chef, she said she also aims to be an advocate for at-risk youths.

“You can be a troubled teen, but you can still be someone. I was a troubled teen, but I am successful and have a career now,” she said. “I often tell the teens, ‘Look, this was my situation but look at where I am now.’ And I hope it gives them hope.”

To operate the program, Kids at Work has received private donations and grants from local juvenile crime prevention councils, the Governor’s Crime Commission and other agencies through the state.

The program offers transportation for students in need.

For more information, go to aspireyouthandfamily.com/kids-at-work/or call district leader Kimberly Townsend at 980-202-2901.

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