Updated: Aug 29, 2019
The Providence Culinary Training (PCT) kitchen at Second Harvest Food Bank is very, very busy. Eggs, flour, sugar, and spices are being passed around huge stainless steel tables, and teams are carefully measuring their ingredients into large bowls. A young woman uses a whisk, perhaps for the first time, and grins widely. A young man claps after stirring his batter.
The entire kitchen feels happy, joyous.
Soon, the kitchen is going to fill with the warm smell of baking, cinnamon, nutmeg. This is Grace by Providence, a cooking class for special needs young adults. At the center of it all is a very special father-son team.
Steve and Steven Jones
When Steve Jones’ son, Steven, was diagnosed with autism as a child, understandably it changed the family’s world. As Steve speaks of the family’s navigation of the world with autism, his voice is even and quiet–it is unclear if his calm and patient demeanor was fortuitously well suited for parenting his son, or if these characteristics are a result of that journey.
Steve Jones shows students how to crack an egg in the Providence Culinary Training teaching kitchen.
Steve and Steven came to Providence Culinary Training together, conjoined as father and son, much like they have been for the last 23 years. Because of his interest in cooking, Steve thought that PCT might be a good place for his son to gain some culinary skills, have a healthy and productive routine, and be in community.
The duo volunteered together for a number of months, helping the PCT staff with tasks around the kitchen, including the preparation and packaging of thousands of summer meal trays for Second Harvest’s summer meal sites for children. After Steven had become familiar and comfortable with the setting, he enrolled officially in the 13-week culinary training program where he, along with his peers, did an intensive deep dive into learning top-flight kitchen skills.
“I could see his development,” says Steve of his son’s time in the PCT program. “To watch him grow to function freely and independently was an amazing experience. Anything I can do with him, I will do. But now he can do things better than me.”
Steve is clearly tickled by what his son has been able to accomplish; it is a wistful pride as his son becomes increasingly independent, mature, free.
Growth and Independence
At his PCT graduation, Steven proudly walked onto the stage to receive his diploma and set of professional knives to the applause of his classmates and his family. But that was not the end of Steven and Steve’s relationship with Providence or the food bank.
“For so many people, PCT is their second chance,” reflects Steve. “But for Steven, it was his actually his first chance. And the impact on him was so great.”
After graduation, Steven continued to volunteer at the Providence kitchen two days a week, now almost entirely independently. “For a special needs child, to see him feel comfortable in his environment is incredible,” Steve explains. “He walks around and approaches people and offers them help while he is there.”
The growth Steve witnessed in his son got him thinking.
Four years ago, Steve had started a ministry for special needs children at Goler Memorial A.M.E Zion in Winston-Salem, the family’s church. The city-wide ministry had quickly grown, engaging special needs children of all ages in trips, outings, and social events and “increasing the circle of friends for my son,” says Steve.
Steven Jones makes muffins in the PCT kitchen.
“Something about PCT really meshed with the ministry and what we are trying to do at Goler,” says Steve. Cooking had brought so much out in his son, Steve wondered if it might not be a good fit for other people with special needs.
Steve and Steven have now launched a special needs cooking class at PCT, with students ranging from their early teens to their mid-40’s. During the monthly class, the students help make sandwiches, hot pockets and, now, muffins.
“We are thrilled to have Grace by Providence muffins for sale at Providence Kitchen,” says Tina Faughnan, Director of Client Services at Providence. “It’s a perfect extension of what we do, creating opportunity for our graduates and harnessing the goodwill of our community.”
“Plus, they happen to be delicious,” she adds.