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For as long as I can remember, my parents taught me the art of giving back. Through countless hours volunteering at soup kitchens and passing out food baskets to less fortunate families, the importance of helping those in need became a priority in my life. After the ANNpower Vital Voices Leadership Forum last summer, I decided to combine my love for service with my passion for cooking, and I received an ANNpower Grant to help me turn my idea into a reality

My innovative idea addresses two major issues in my community – poverty and hunger – through my passion for cooking. The inspiration for my project came to me after I read a news article highlighting the huge number of students in Louisville public schools that are homeless. Shocked by the statistics, I hatched the idea of conducting cooking sessions with homeless, or at-risk children and their parents.  Now, I am working with Chef Nancy Russman and The Family Scholar House to educate the children and their mothers about the importance of nutrition and how to prepare meals. We conduct cooking classes twice a week for low-income families so that they can learn healthy eating habits that last throughout their lifetime, while experiencing the bonds that develop over shared meals.

My goal is to get healthy food to these children, and also teach important life skills and reinforce family values. Some of my favorite memories are sitting around my own family’s round kitchen table for dinner, and I believe that my project not only teaches valuable healthy cooking and eating lessons, but it will also help strengthen families. 

My mentor at the 2012 ANNpower Vital Voices Leadership Forum, Mu Sochua, guided me in many ways. Going into the Forum, my project idea was to write a cookbook with help from local chefs and distribute it to low-income families. I already had plans in my head to carry this idea out; but, when I met Sochua and told her about my idea, everything changed. She inspired me to conduct cooking classes instead of writing a cookbook. She believed I would grow as a leader by having personal relationships with the families at my cooking classes. I am now forever grateful for her advice because I cannot imagine my project without the classes.

The team at Family Scholar House (FSH) has been incredible, and they have not only helped me with my project, but have also been great local mentors for me. The CEO of Family Scholar House, Cathe Dykstra, has given me the confidence that I needed to start. Other mentors and guides for me throughout the implementation of my project have been Jocelyn Fetalver, the Family Services Coordinator at FSH, and Chef Nancy Russman, who is incredibly smart and has healthy, innovative recipes. 

With the help of all my mentors, I’ve seen my own leadership skills grow. For eight Thursdays and Saturdays, I have families counting on me to create a fun and informative cooking class, and I work hard to live up to that responsibility. I hope my project will continue throughout my senior year. The families I work with inspire me to create change in my community, and I want to continue to be a role model for them.

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