BOISE -- At-risk youth in the Treasure Valley are getting a unique opportunity to get free culinary arts training and a whole lot more. The program, Life's Kitchen, is another winner of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation ID21 awards for innovative educational ideas. Winners receive $50,000.
In life, carving a path can be tough. Not long ago 20-year-old Shauni Bonome was not sure what to do next.
"I actually did try the college scene," Bonome said. She says college was not a good fit at the time because she wasn't getting enough individual attention from professors.
However, in Life's Kitchen, there's a recipe for Bonome and others to get ahead, by introducing teenagers to the restaurant industry.
"We graduate about 54 students a year," Life's Kitchen Board President Doug Metzgar said. "What we're all about is providing life skills and culinary skills for at-risk youth between the ages of 16 and 20 in the Treasure Valley area."
The students work side-by-side with professional chefs who teach them how to work in culinary arts.
"I've always wanted to get into cooking, be a chef," student Connor Buerstetta said. "I just like that it's so hands-on and it's not so much book work as it is just going in the kitchen and doing it."
"It's always something new every day. Always get a chance to gain more skills in the kitchen," Bonome said.
The Life's Kitchen experience is free to the students. In exchange for the training, they help cook for local shelters, cater events, and work this lunchtime cafe open to the public.
"This is a place where our students get to meet people in the community by busing and serving the tables, and still be working on a production line so that they know that when the ticket comes through, they've got to assemble and get it out," Metzgar said.
Not only are the students learning kitchen skills that they could use in a restaurant setting, they are also learning life skills that they can use once they leave. They learn life skills like money management and how to get a job.
"We're giving them an opportunity to really refine their resume, sharpen their interviewing skills so they can look for future job opportunities, and be employable," Metzgar said. "This gives them focus. This gives them the skills to move ahead."
The new skills bring students confidence and new hope. Bonome plans to give post-secondary education another try -- a path nearly half of Life's Kitchen grads go for.
"It's just made me feel better about my capabilities," Bonome said. "I really want to continue on with school after this -- just further my education, whether it's culinary school or BSU, I haven't really decided."
The Life's Kitchen cafe at 1025 South Capitol Boulevard is open Tuesday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The menu is changed often, and offers selections such as sandwiches and soups for around $7 a plate.
To learn more about the program Life's Kitchen offers, along with catering offerings, click here.