March 15, 2023
Our Stories – Aspire Youth/Kids at Work
Submitted by Alan Gill
When you enter Ardmore Baptist Church, the first thing you notice is the size and beauty of the facility. We have been blessed with the stewardship of this building and, as a good neighbor, we make it a priority to share it with organizations that are working for the good in our community. Here is a spotlight on one of these groups.
On Monday and Tuesday afternoons, you will find a handful of teenagers hanging around the kitchen. They may look a little rough around the edges and wear clothing that is more appropriate for the street than inside a church, but you will see many smiles and hear giggles and laughs and good natured banter between them. They are learning to cook.
Most of these young people did not choose to be here. Many are working off community service hours, some are required to attend as part of their family counseling program, some are just trying to stay out of trouble. Take Robert for example. He was your typical teenager trying to fit in with his peers. He wasn’t an athlete or a musician. He wasn’t a very good student. He didn’t have any goals in life except to play video games and smoke a little pot. After a number of encounters with the school administration and law enforcement, Robert was asked (he might say forced) to show up to a cooking class at Ardmore Baptist Church after school on Mondays. When you think about it, can there be anything more humiliating than the way that sounds?
Robert was dropped off on that Monday with nothing but a bad attitude. Chef Everett put him to work right away cutting peppers and onions, giving him pointers while allowing Robert to work through his anger by slicing up vegetables. Then he got to sauté the vegetables on the biggest oven he had ever seen. Robert does not remember much from that first day. He doesn’t recall sitting down with the other kids and the social worker to learn life and social skills. He only remembers how good that chicken stir-fry tasted and how amazed he was that he had helped cook it.
Over the next few weeks, Robert learned many culinary skills from the chef and would practice at home by making meals for his family. He learned budgeting and grocery shopping skills from the chef and the counseling staff. He learned to trust his peers in the kitchen and how they can work together to create delicious meals for each other. But most of all he learned that he was loved and respected by the chef and the counselors which gave him a confidence and purpose. He realized that there were many young people just like himself that struggle in school and at home, and that even the chef whom he admired had overcome challenges in his past. Robert had no need or desire to go back into his old life patterns. And when his service hours were completed, Robert chose to continue in the program on his own accord. He still helps with the program’s catering business and hopes to one day run his own restaurant.
Aspire Youth’s mission is to assist young people in overcoming behavioral, emotional, or substance abuse obstacles, so they may realize their full potential. They provide counseling, life skills development, and education through experience, in a supportive environment that emphasizes the strengths of each individual. They are serving a population that we don’t see often at Ardmore Baptist Church, and we are proud to be partnering with them in their work in our community.
If you want to know more about Aspire Youth & Families and the Kids at Work program, check out their website at https://www.aspireyouthandfamily.com/. Or if you are around the church on Monday or Tuesday evening and see a group of rough-looking teenagers in the Fellowship Hall and Kitchen, stop by and say ‘Hi”. They may even make you a plate for dinner!