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How one cooking program created a recipe to transform lives.

What’s one of the greatest gifts you can give someone? Helping them gain self-confidence. Helping them transform slowly from not being able to look anyone in the eye to being completely self-assured. These are the types of transformations the Cooking to Learn program in Miramichi is fostering in their students.

When it comes to education, out-of-the-box ideas often generate unsuspected benefits. Barbara Lake Lane is no stranger to this idea! She is a Miramichi Literacy Council Laubach tutor at the Miramichi Adult Learning Inc. She and 3 of her colleagues wanted to step up their approach with their pre-GED students, so they came up with an innovative idea: Cooking to Learn!

The idea is simple and effective – by teaching students to cook, they gain practical reading and math skills from using the recipes all while learning to eat well.

“Cooking and giving them good food is the basis for everything that happened,” says Barbara. “Their brain works better on a full stomach and with healthy food.”

After the first year in the Cooking to Learn program, Barbara felt her students were ready for the next step – to put their skills to the test by shadowing jobs in the food industry. Not only did this help the students earn extra money, it also set them up for finding jobs within the community.

And the program, now in its fourth year, has achieved extraordinary results!

Not only are students learning to read, write, and do math, they are also becoming more confident, getting off income assistance and landing jobs. All while continuing their education—in training programs, colleges and even at university.

In the last three years, four students landed full-time jobs in the food industry, another four have full- or part-time work in the cleaning industry, two returned to their seasonal jobs, and some current students are shadowing and will have permanent part-time jobs when they finish.

One of the students, who really wanted to be a cook, even worked his way up in the food industry and is now a supervisor and chief cook—living his dream!

The program was a real community partnership effort:

  • The program was developed through a collaborative effort by the Miramichi Literacy Council, Miramichi Adult Learning Inc., Laubach Literacy New Brunswick and the Regional Literacy Consultant.
  • Job shadowing opportunities for the students were offered through Schizophrenia Miramichi’s Achieves program.
  • With support from the Community Inclusion Network, Community Food Mentors trained the Miramichi Literacy Council Tutors to help the students
  • The Wellness Branch of the Department of Social Development, the Rotary Club of Newcastle, the Rotary Club of Chatham, the Community Food Action Program, and the regional Community Inclusion Network all stepped up to help fund the program.

Broader support from the community soon followed. The Knights of Columbus allowed the use of their kitchen and community members donated food—from bread, to farm-fresh eggs and meat.

Barbara notes that while community support has been key to the program, the support the students receive outside the classroom is crucial. “We found that the students who have a support system behind them do much better. We had one student who initially refused to learn how to write because he was told by his father that he wasn’t smart enough to write. Well, now he’s writing!”

Based on the success of the program so far, it is expected that it will continue to grow. Classes have already expanded from 8 to 12 students.

The biggest change, however, is in the students themselves. “We had one student who came to us who couldn’t look anyone in the eye, she wouldn’t lift her head. After 5 years, that student is out doing an excellent job at work and has grown up to be so sure of herself—and that’s just one,” recounts Barbara with pride.

Many have changed their stories, overcoming negative beliefs they had about themselves and what they are capable of, achieving new levels of success in their lives. As the saying goes, Give someone a fish and they will eat for one day. Teach someone how to fish and they will eat for a lifetime!

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