Bridging the Divide: Empowering Communities through Culinary Education
and Beautiful and Affordable Housing
By Leron Dugan
Disrupting the excitement of our lives, the kitchen, a pillar of household and family, is the hearth. A simple room, often unadorned but marked with the stains and nicks of memories made and meals shared, are much of what contributes to the value of life. It is within these contrasts of living and enduring that one forgets those around us who share this existence, who might not even have those small and principal moments to guide them through life; the kitchen stands where culinary wonders are created and cherished memories are born. Yet, it is crucial to recognize that these experiences of home learning are not equal across socioeconomic lines.
For those experiencing hardship, but still expected to meet the world and succeed within it, there is a dire need for equalizing intervention to prevent the perpetuating narrative of predestined destitution within systemically disadvantaged communities. Realizing the kitchen as a foundational and inherent place for learning and community building makes it a significant point of intercession to facilitate the overture of an accessible and fruitful future. Many young people today find themselves in positions that hinder the cultivation of competence and the continuation of cultural practices in the kitchen, resulting in significant disadvantages in personal development and career advancement. It is here that the importance of initiatives like The Children’s Village’s Teaching Kitchen comes into sharp focus.
To address this social and systemic inequity, The Children’s Village has taken a remarkable step forward with its Teaching Kitchen program. Housed on its residential campus in Dobbs Ferry, NY, this initiative offers a safe space for young individuals to familiarize themselves with culinary practices, encouraging them to engage closely with a diverse range of culinary exercises that build skills and boost confidence. From mastering culinary techniques like quartering a chicken to exchanging valuable cultural knowledge, students who partake in this program leave with experiences that profoundly shift their perspectives, as well as an official certificate in the food preparation and service industries.
Throughout their learning journey, students are exposed to a comprehensive curriculum that includes menu planning, financial management of kitchens and restaurants, healthy portion control, and table etiquette. Upon completion, they receive the coveted ServSafe certification, opening doors to what might be a new passion, or the beginning of a successful career.
Beyond just honing their culinary expertise, the Teaching Kitchen provides so much more to these young learners. The program, which commenced in 2008, serves as a catalyst for personal development and passion for fulfilling and paid work. It not only imparts culinary education but also fosters vital communication skills and meaningful connections with others. The most powerful aspect of this program is the way it empowers its participants to recognize and harness their true potential.
Chef Jason, the current chef and teacher for the program on campus, has dedicated his time here, equipping his students with adaptable, nutritious, and accessible recipes and cooking tricks that will last them a lifetime. What makes him stand out as an instructor and mentor is his non hierarchal approach to teaching. It is his belief that everyone has something to offer and someone to learn from, and the kitchen as an extension of that, is shared as well. When asked about how it is that he found himself working in the culinary space, he offers that it was inevitable that he ended up where he did: “My father was a chef, and that’s where it kind of came from. And then also growing up in a bodega, there was always cooking, there was always food. My family just there, always cooking. I’ve always been around this, So it kind of made sense that I just kind of happened to be doing this now.” Jason’s story reflects in many ways the core ethos of the program, offering young people much deserved agency and creative control over their journeys of self-discovery. If you like to read more on both the success and the impact this program has had over the years, you will find that here.
Yet, the significance of programs like the Teaching Kitchen extends far beyond individual success stories. In a society burdened by the long-standing effects of systemic discrimination against the underprivileged, these rehabilitative programs represent a vital step towards redistributing agency to those who need it most. The Children’s Village, with its progressive initiatives, has been at the forefront of nurturing the potential of disenfranchised youth, offering hope and opportunities for a brighter future.
Looking ahead, The Eliza, set to open in Inwood, Manhattan, promises to continue this mission. Featuring up to 175 apartments, an attached public library, choice proximity to public transport, and many other amenities, this new addition stands to offer novel quality of affordable living in the Manhattan borough. Designed to provide a supportive environment that goes beyond housing, the Eliza will feature its own Teaching Kitchen program, equipped with a state-of-the-art kitchen tailored for culinary lessons. This project’s impact is expected to reverberate not only within the lives of its residents but also throughout the larger community.
Boroughs throughout New York City continue to suffer, as many of its residents struggle to manage responsibilities of home, work, and life. According to a study done by the International Socioeconomics Laboratory in 2021, the median income for the average household ranks at $93,651. This statistic represents only a small portion of roughly 1.629 million lives on the island, highlighting the necessity for equitable housing and opportunities in the area. When looking at the average costs of rent alone, low-income renters have shown to hold the most significant burden in keeping a roof over their head, as nearly half of them spend over 50% of their income on gross rent across all boroughs, including Manhattan. This represents much more than numbers in a data set. Infrastructural care for NYC and its residents should reflect the needs of all its inhabitants, not just the median. As we envision the transformative power of these programs, it becomes evident that they are more than just steppingstones to personal and professional growth. They represent a breaking of generational cycles, as knowledge and empowerment are reinvested back into communities. By providing young individuals with new lenses through which to envision their futures, these initiatives instill a powerful sense of agency and self-determination, ultimately leading to a brighter and more promising society.
It is through initiatives like the Teaching Kitchen and the Eliza that the impact of individual growth ripples out to positively affect the entire community. As we embrace the impact these programs have on individuals and communities alike, we realize that they are not just about learning to cook; they are about sowing the seeds of progress, compassion, and social change. By investing in the potential of those around us, we ensure a brighter tomorrow for all members of society, transcending barriers and forging a more inclusive and harmonious future. As the Teaching Kitchen continues its work and the Eliza beckons with promise, our communities stand to flourish as a tapestry of empowered individuals creating a better, more inclusive tomorrow.
The Eliza, situated in Inwood, Manhattan, stands as a promising response to the pressing crisis of scarce affordable housing in New York City. With up to 175 apartments and a range of amenities including an attached public library and convenient access to public transportation, The Eliza is designed with a mission to provide a solution to the ongoing struggle faced by many residents in managing the demands of home and life. As a beacon of hope in an area where housing costs can be overwhelming for low-income individuals and families, The Eliza aims to offer not only quality and affordable living spaces but also a supportive environment that fosters community, connection, and well-being. By addressing the need for equitable housing options, The Eliza endeavors to contribute to a more inclusive and sustainable urban landscape, recognizing that access to safe and affordable housing is a fundamental right for all residents, irrespective of income levels.