If you stop by Second Harvest Food Bank’s Providence Culinary Training, chances are you will see Steven Jones.
Steven, 23, is handsome and tall; he has to pitch his shoulders forward a bit to be at the right angle as he chops vegetables, carefully mincing carrots, celery, and onions for a mirepoix. He does not look up as we enter the room; he is intensely focused.
“Steven always said he wanted to be a chef,” says his father, Steve. Perhaps it comes from watching his father cook at home, or perhaps from the many days that he has volunteered in the kitchen of his aunt’s assisted living home in Reidsville making special meals for the seniors who live there–Steve is not sure. But it is in a kitchen– specifically this kitchen at the back of the food bank–that he has seen his son grow.
Growth and Independence
When Steven was diagnosed with autism as a child, understandably it changed the Jones’ world. As Steven Jones speaks of Steven and 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.
Steven and Steve came to Providence Culinary Training (PCT) together, conjoined as father and son as they have been for 23 years. Because of his interest in cooking, Steve thought that Providence might be a good place for Steven to gain some culinary skills, have a healthy and productive routine, and be in the community. The duo volunteered together for a number of months, helping the Providence Culinary Training 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 in Second Harvest’s 13-week culinary training program where he, along with his peers, did an intensive deep dive into the culinary arts, learning top-flight kitchen skills.
“I could see his development. I could follow up with what he was learning in classes at home,” says Steve of his son’s time in the PCT program. “To be there and actually be able 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,” he laughs.
While Steve is clearly tickled at this, one can also see that for a moment he is overcome with a wistful pride by the thought of his son becoming so independent, so mature, so free.
A Heart for Service
At his PCT graduation, Steven proudly walked onto the stage to receive his diploma and a brand new set of professional knives to the joyous applause of his classmates and his family. But that was not the end of Steven and Steve’s relationship with the program.
“For so many people, Providence 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 PCT 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 and Steve 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, hour and a half long class, the students help make muffins, sandwiches, and hot pockets to both eat and to be given out in the community. Soon the class will be teaming up with a local cafe designed to employ individuals with special needs: Steven and Steve’s class will be supplying the muffins.
Through Giving, We Grow
Steven and Steve’s story at Providence is emblematic of how, through community, we can receive, give, and grow. While certainly the staff and students at Triad Community Kitchen helped Steven learn and flourish, he and his father quickly took those skills and folded them back into the community, as if they were kneading bread to help it rise.
We are deeply appreciative of the countless hours Steven and Steve give to our organization, doing the very literal work of feeding community by chopping vegetable, stirring stews, and bagging up meals for those who are in need in our community. We are also appreciative of this father-son team’s ceaseless dedication to growing our community by believing in the limitless capabilities and potential of all people and bringing new faces to our kitchen.