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What started out as a holiday activity has become an ongoing cause for culinary students, providing hope and building trust for families in trouble

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It takes a lot of heart to walk into a shelter for abused children. But three male college students found a way in, not coincidentally, through the stomachs of the young residents.

“The shelter facility, Neighborhood House, is designed to educate children from environments that most of us would never see. They’ve been abused, both physically and emotionally,” explains Philip Martin, a culinary arts student and SkillsUSA member in Salt Lake City.

After a fair amount of research, Martin’s Community Service contest team at Salt Lake Community College (SLCC), which also included Terry Chavez (pictured at the bottom of the page) and James Dunn, targeted the shelter. Neighborhood House opened its doors 112 years ago to offer services to local families on a sliding financial scale.

“It’s made a world of difference for the low-income people in the area,” Martin says. “They have been able to give their kids an education, nutritious meals, clothing. It’s put them in touch with other organizations that will help them achieve a higher level and standard of living.”

Working with shelters takes special planning, he adds. “We talked to them and got them to commit to allowing us to come in and work with the kids, with the understanding that we wouldn’t print any names. But, photos are OK.” “Being culinary students, we shuffled around a few ideas and discussed how we’d could go about it. And, we wanted to do something for Valentine’s Day.”

With donated baking materials, the men organized their culinary arts classmates to bake heart-shaped cookies for the shelter, then decorated them with the children.

“These kids have seen more in their young lives than most adults,” Martin says. “We were very impressed with the program there. The children were very attentive students.”

The project turned out to be more successful than they imagined. “The staff begged us to come back,” Chavez adds.

Each June, the shelter holds a block-party barbecue to thank the community for its support. Donations fund the school, where many of the teachers are volunteers.

“When we finished up our Valentine’s Day cookie project, the staff asked if we’d be interested in coming back in June and helping with the barbecue,” Martin says. “I committed us without asking anybody, because it was such a big deal. Terry, James and I felt it would be important for us to come back and help these kids.

“When we first went in there, the kids were very apprehensive about us, strangers in general. When we left, they were smiling. When we went back to do the barbecue, we found children who recognized us and just smiled.

“It was a huge event. Four of us served over 1,000 people that night. We had donations of hamburgers, hot dogs and potato chips. When we finished, the school director and activities director thanked us for a job well done and asked if we could come back next year and help,” Martin adds.

Evidently, at previous events Neighborhood House staff weren’t able to feed all the guests. Because the SLCC group managed to serve so many, they were urged to return.

Building delicate relationships with shelter residents requires continuity, so students at SLCC are working to make this a long-term partnership, Chavez says.

“Eventually we’ll all graduate,” he explains, “and we’re hoping that we can bring new people on board and train them to make this an ongoing project, students who will pick up where we left off.”

“Eventually we’ll all graduate, and we’re hoping that we can bring new people on board and train them to make this an ongoing project, students who will pick up where we left off.”
— Terry Chavez

A new approach for college students

Integrating contest standards builds trade and leadership skills

Paul Lehrdahl and his colleagues at SLCC wanted to give their students something extra, so they looked to the SkillsUSA Championships Technical Standards.

“We’ve developed two new courses at Salt Lake Community College to help train our students specifically in leadership and in communications skills,” explains Lehrdahl, a leadership coach who also trains electricians.

Lehrdahl, Roger Johnson and T.C. Stuwe developed training programs in both career speech skills and in leadership and teamwork skills. Their programs involve students in culinary arts, building construction and early childhood development.

“We integrated the SkillsUSA technical standards and coached these students to participate in both a leadership event and skills event at the regional level,” Lehrdahl says.

At the regional level, students Chavez and Martin competed in both Community Service and Culinary Arts. They qualified to compete at states in both contests but were required to choose only one.

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SkillsUSA Champions | Spring 2007 | Volume 41, No. 3
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