Veggie Kabobs for 400 at the UNC Asheville basketball game? Sure. Call in the Kids At Work!
Kids At Work! is a program of Aspire Youth and Family, Inc of Haywood County. Now in their third year of mentoring teens in Buncombe and Haywood Counties while teaching them life skills and lots of cooking lessons, tonight are feeding the 400 a healthy snack alternative for halftime. Program coordinator Corey Costanzo explains how important the UNC Asheville partnership is, saying “It is always amazing to see the connection between our kids (12-17 years old) and the students, staff, and faculty here. I mean, the college students are only a couple of years older, many of them faced the same pressures and came through it, and it helps the younger kids to see how college students live.”
Funded through grants from the North Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (DJJDP) Kids At Work! is a vocationally-based after-school program emphasizing the culinary arts. A maximum of 10 kids are enrolled at one time for a 6-month session. Twice a week for three-and-one-half hours, the students are immersed in cooking lessons and learning what it takes to work in the food industry. By the end of the 6 months, they have been through 46 cooking lessons.
The students come to the program from several streams, and represent all schools of Asheville City, Buncome and Haywood Counties. Some are referred by courts or councilors at school, others are drawn to the cooking aspect, while others are just looking for something to do. No matter the school or circumstances, Costanzo welcomes them all. “These kids are great. I know teachers say this all the time, but I really do learn as much — or more — from them.”
Chef Ambra Lowenstein is putting trays of veggie kabobs in the oven when I ask her if this is her dream job, “Most days, absolutely… but then there are those other days,” she says. With a background in education and cooking, she sure seems a good fit — one moment chopping and cutting, the next showing one of the teens in the program how best to pour sauce without spilling it.
Tucked away in a beautiful new kitchen in the Sherrill Center the students work together to clean, chop, and marinate the ingredients for the veggie kabobs. Their parents might be amazed at the cooperation and enthusiasm they display, but Lowenstein and Costanzo say it is the norm. “You can tell a lot about a kid by the way they do dishes,” Costanzo said.
At halftime, the Veggie Kabobs with Argentinean Chimichurri Sauce were a big hit with fans. So was the recipe they passed out with them.
If you are 12-17 years old, the parent of a teen, or know of a teen in the Asheville City, Buncombe or Haywood County school systems who might be interested in Kids At Work! contact Corey Costanzo at 828-508-3115. There is no cost for the program, and pick-ups and drop-offs are included.