Koinonia teens learn skills in donated kitchen

By: Leah Rosasco, Loomis News Correspondent
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Thanks to a new kitchen, youth overcoming substance abuse have added nutritious cooking to their list of life skills. Last month, work was completed on a teaching kitchen at one of six Loomis homes for teens who are overcoming substance abuse. The homes are run by Koinonia Family Services. According to Bill Ryland, Koinonia’s group home administrator, the new kitchen will be used as a hands-on classroom for the residents of Koinonia’s group homes as part of their ongoing Life Skills Program. “The idea is they will learn not only how to cook, but how to budget and shop for groceries and how to incorporate good nutrition into each meal,” Ryland said. According to Ryland, many of the kids that find their way to Koinonia are the “toughest of the tough kids” who have not had the opportunity to learn certain life skills, including cooking and proper nutrition. Ryland said some of the kids had never sat down at the table for a family meal before they came to Koinonia. “These kids have already been through a lot by the time they get to us,” he said. “Our job is to flood them with positive experiences and give them new opportunities.” For Ulises, 17, who is originally from Salinas, (Koinonia does not allow last names to be used) coming to live at Koinonia changed the course of his life. Ulises said before Koinonia, he wasn’t going to school, he was getting into trouble and hanging around negative influences. “In my head, I didn’t want any help,” Ulises said. Ulises said he’s happy he ended up at Koinonia because he’s gotten help with his problems and has new opportunities. Thanks in part to the new kitchen, Ulises said he has rediscovered his love of cooking and has decided he wants to attend Le Cordon Bleu culinary academy, in Sacramento, to become a chef. “I feel proud,” he said. “I’m happy I’ve made my family proud.” Funding for the kitchen project came from multiple sources, including $10,000 from Bank of America and a grant from the Herbalife Family Foundation, which has also established Koinonia as its sixth Casa Herbalife program in the United States. “The Herbalife program looks for organizations that give kids a better life,” said Eleanor McCampbell, independent Herbalife distributor and Koinonia’s Casa Herbalife liaison. McCampbell said Koinonia will continue to receive financial support, as well as access to products, information, and educational programs that promote nutrition for kids. The Intel Corporation has taken the lead on developing the culinary arts curriculum for the new kitchen and is providing financial support, Ryland said. Although the project has been in the works for more than a year, Ryland said the actual construction work took eight days from beginning to end. “Since we are a functioning facility we could not be offline for very long,” he said. The cabinets and countertops were constructed by Loomis-based companies West Pacific Cabinets and Kerrock countertops. Marina, 16, a Koinonia resident who is originally from Richmond, also enjoys cooking in the new kitchen. Although Marina said she’s been cooking since she was six years old, by the time she was 11, she was getting into drugs and gangs. Marina said she became independent at a young age, which she believes is what got her into trouble. After several stints in juvenile hall a judge ordered her to spend time in a group home and, she said, it’s the best thing that ever happened to her. “My theory is that everything happens for a reason,” Marina said. “Now, I’m trying to decide if I want to be a chef or a probation officer or a drug counselor.”