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Adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities attend GCSU for the first time to learn restaurant skills

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  • Adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities attend GCSU for the first time to learn restaurant skills
    Jamie Puckett and Bryant Butts make a smoothie together.
  • Adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities attend GCSU for the first time to learn restaurant skills
    Back Left to Right: Connie Prezioso, Socorro Walker, Ashley Burkhalter, Bryant Butts, Zayne Kemler, Kevin Kuehn, Barbara Coleman, Dee Weimer and Maddy Harris. Front Left to Right: Nancy Williams, Grady Howell, Tia Hill, Camyrn Nairne, Amy Mathis, Brianna
  • Adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities attend GCSU for the first time to learn restaurant skills
    Camyrn Nairne and Amy Mathis cut strawberries to make a smoothie. CONTRIBUTED
  • Adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities attend GCSU for the first time to learn restaurant skills
    The class celebrates using their skills by toasting with their freshly made smoothies. CONTRIBUTED

Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities from the Life Enrichment Center graduated from the Food Safety 101 course through Georgia College & State University’s Continuing and Professional Education program.

“This was their chance to go to college. Being able to partner our students with college students enabled us to adapt the curriculum to meet the skill set and the needs of each individual,” said Barbara Coleman, executive director of the Life Enrichment Center. “The simple things were made extra special because everything they did, the college students did. They were learning everything together.”

Connie Prezioso was hired as an independent contractor to be the Food Safety 101 instructor. She has been in the restaurant field for over 10 years and currently manages a local restaurant and teaches ServSafe courses to restaurant workers.

“This was a pilot program,” said Prezioso. “We use a modified version of ServSafe standards to help teach this program.”

Seven college interns and seven candidates from the Life Enrichment Center were a part of the class. While the class was only taught twice a week, interns helped to reinforce lessons of the class daily and participated in the class as students, not just assistants.

“Interns assisted with notes, worked every day with their partners and reviewed the content with their partners,” said Prezioso. “They were an integral part of the learning curve of this program.”

Food Safety 101 was a hands-on class course taught with repetition and review to assist with a range of intellectual and developmental disabilities. LEC students learned about a range of topics from hand washing to bacteria that can affect food.

“They surprised me in every class,” said Prezioso. “It was an absolute joy to teach because they were so excited about it.”

One student from the LEC, Amy Mathis, has been waiting to go to college for 22 years. Through this experience, she learned how to take notes for herself and her fiance, work in a college classroom environment and learn food safety basics. She’s very excited to use what she has learned to prepare her favorite recipes, including pizza and bagels.

“I was so excited to go to college! I loved being on a college campus. I learned a lot about note taking, reading and more,” said Mathis. “It was a lot of laughing and fun. I really enjoyed the classroom, my teacher and going to the Max. Next year, I want to take the next class, Food Preparation.”

Students Tia Hill and Josie Cothran expressed that this program was their first college experience and taught them a lot about what they want out of college for their future. Hill wants to be a nurse and Cothran wants to be a veterinarian. Both strive to go to college to complete these goals.

“I got to learn how to take good notes for class. I would take home my notes and study that information. It helped me a lot with remembering the lesson,” said Hill. Cothran agreed and said, “This is my first step into college. I learned a lot, enjoyed seeing the campus and it was really fun.”

Bryant Butts partnered with intern Jamie Puckett. The pair expressed that they learned the most together through the course.

“This was my first time working with an individual with an intellectual disability. Bryant was really shy at first, but we bonded quickly and now we have a handshake too, which is cool,” said Puckett. Butts agreed and said, “I really liked making smoothies together and adding strawberries and greek yogurt together. We made the class fun.”

Aisha Thomas and intern Brianna Flores expressed that the biggest impact from the class was experiencing the content together. As a pair, Thomas and Flores took notes, cooked and reviewed every day for the next class.

“I think overall we were just able to learn together. I mean, half of the stuff that was taught was stuff that I didn't even really know,” said Flores. “We definitely bonded over that experience.”

Thomas stated her favorite things to learn with Flores were the cooking tools, how to make smoothies, how to cut using knives and how to cut strawberries.

“Just watching all of them be able to live out their dreams, because a lot of them have been wanting to go to college for so long and to finally get the opportunity to do it was really rewarding for all of them and us (the interns),” said Camryn Nairne, GCSU intern.

Prezioso along with students expressed that this was a new and eye-opening experience for them. Prezioso believed the program only exceeded because of a grand effort of teamwork made by everyone involved.

“I am totally amazed by the LEC leaders, the students, the student interns, and Angela Criscoe with Georgia College’s Continuing and Professional Education program,” said Prezioso. “I just can't thank them all enough for giving me this opportunity for us to be a team and the work of this. I hope for the future we can work on a sort of part two of this course and keep offering this first part as well.”

The Life Enrichment Center is currently working to create an urban arts village that will have a farmers’ market and greenhouse, alongside a snack shack that the students will use their skills from Food Safety 101 to run.

“It (the urban arts village) will be a way to bring the community together with a common vision and so as part of this, we wanted to have a snack shack that gives out coffees, smoothies, popsicles for the kids and other healthy alternative snack to be able to sell it to the public when they come to the farmers market or the village,” said Coleman.

To continue to prepare LEC students for this village development, the center is working on a secondary course for food preparation that could be offered in the fall at GCSU. The Food Handling 101 course is also planned to be hosted again as well.