February 8, 2008

On a recent Saturday afternoon, Mary Rose Mattei and Annette Brown shared their love of cooking with a group of teen girls at the Maryhurst campus. Together, they taught basic cooking skills along with important nutritional information. It’s all part of the life of a Master Food Volunteer.

Mattei is the Master Food Volunteer coordinator for the Jefferson County office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, and Brown is a volunteer.

As part of the program, volunteers take a series of classes then share their knowledge with the community. Graduates of the hands-on program volunteer across Jefferson County throughout the year. Volunteers can be found at Maryhurst as well as senior citizen centers, soup kitchens, substance abuse centers, women’s shelters, farmers markets and in immigrant communities.

The Master Food Volunteer program began in Jefferson County in 2006, and the fourth class starts in March. The program also ties in well with Mayor Jerry Abramson’s Healthy Hometown Initiative, said Mattei, who serves on one of the initiative’s committees.

Mattei said she learned of the opportunity to work with the Maryhurst teens from a local chef. The cooking classes are fun activities for the girls and teaches them important independent living skills, she said.

“It sounded like something I’d enjoy doing through the Master Food Volunteer program,” she said. “I’ve lived just down the street, and I’d never been on the campus. I knew somewhat about what they did, but I wanted to know more. Plus, I have a daughter, and I taught her how to cook, so I thought I could help. Also, at UK we have so much information to share, and these are the shoppers of tomorrow. They are very interested, and the need is really there.”

Founded in 1843 by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, Maryhurst is the oldest child welfare agency in Kentucky. Today, it is operated by a nonprofit independent board of directors. Maryhurst provides residential treatment, an accredited on campus school, treatment oriented foster care, and supervised transitional living for children. The residential facility is for teen girls aged 13 to 17, but many of its other programs serve girls and boys.

Bringing in volunteers from the community is an important part of the overall activities program at Maryhurst, said Jan Edwards, director of professional development and activities therapies. Being a nonprofit agency with a small activities staff, volunteers enhance what the staff can provide for the girls. In addition to the cooking classes, they have volunteers that teach music, knitting and crocheting, yoga and other activities.

“It’s great for the girls,” she said. “It connects them to others in the community and gives them a different perspective, and it’s good for others to know about what we do at Maryhurst.”

For cooking volunteer Annette Brown, volunteering at Maryhurst is a natural extension of her life’s work.

Brown has been cooking for seniors at her church, St. Stephen Baptist Church, and has a background in counseling psychology. She said she lacked opportunities as a teen, and she had promised herself and prayed that she would provide her own children with all the opportunities she did not have as a young girl and “raise my babies right.” Today, her two sons hold advanced degrees and are successful in their fields. Working with the young girls at Maryhurst is a “calling” to continue to provide opportunities to young people, she said.

“I know what I didn’t have, and I understand the neediness,” Brown said. “That’s the part that touches my heart.”

D., a 13-year-old resident said the class can be used toward her independent living, but it also provides fun recipes and has taught her to try new things.

“I want to try the kiwi on the fruit pizza. I’ve never had kiwi before.”

Sixteen-year-old T. said she likes cooking with her friends.

“I like to try new things,” she said. “We also do cooking classes in our dorm with the staff on the weekends. It’s easier for us to do this on the weekend, because during the week we are busy. But on the weekends it’s our free time, and we get to do things we want to do like cooking, going on outings and other stuff.”

This was the third visit for Mattei and the first for Brown to the residential home. Mattei said they will keep coming back as long as the Maryhurst staff wants them, and that’s something Edwards likes to hear.

“We work hard to make sure both (the girls and volunteers) have a good experience,” she said.

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