January 3, 2001 | By: Laura Skillman

Quick party treats was a recent theme for the day inside the kitchen at Trace Industries, a division of Pennyroyal Mental Health.

Under the direction of Jill Harris, Todd County Extension agent for Family and Consumer Sciences, six mentally challenged adults are learning additional cooking skills to better care for themselves and, for some, their families too.

Harris has been teaching the class since February and the adults have learned how to fix everything from holiday snacks to oven-fried chicken. The class doesn't simply teach them to prepare dishes, it also teaches them about shopping, eating more nutritious meals and proper food preparation techniques.

"I am trying to emphasize nutrition," Harris said. "Some of them did not have very good eating habits."

Class members made a list of what they want to make and Harris picked out the recipes. Each member brings one or two needed ingredients. That teaches them about shopping and responsibility, she said.

Harris said she plans to continue the class as long as there is interest.

"They seem to really enjoy doing it," she said. "They are a fun audience to work with and they want to be here."

Harris received one of four nationwide awards last October from the National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences and received $500 to be used toward the project. The money has already helped buy cooking supplies, she said. Harris also plans to put together a teaching kit and cookbook and make it available to agents who are doing similar projects.

Trace Industries is a sheltered workshop providing vocational training and employment for developmentally-delayed and mentally challenged residents in the Pennyroyal's eight-county service area. The work is done under contract and much of it is manual labor such as sorting parts, said Tim Golden, coordinator of public information.

"It's a really unique class," Golden said.


Jill Harris, (270) 265-5659