Ram Chefs Program Makes Wednesday the Best Day of the Week for Developmentally Disabled Young Adults
Every Wednesday in the 2019-2020 academic year, three young adults with developmental disabilities served a church supper at the United Methodist Church of West Chester with the aid of WCU associate nutrition professor Jeanie Subach and three of her nutrition students. Knowing that these individuals would be affected when the pandemic caused the church to stop the weekly supper, Subach sought a different way to engage them. That effort became Ram Chefs, which now connects seven young adults with developmental disabilities with seven nutrition students for a weekly one-on-one meal prep and cooking lesson via Zoom.
Teaching food preparation skills — including how to shop for and choose nutritious ingredients — builds confidence for these individuals. “The program is a means of increasing their self-determination which leads to increased self-worth and independence,” Subach notes. “They know they are able to contribute to society.”
Ram Chefs work with their coaches individually in Zoom breakout rooms for personal instruction. The program uses an active engagement framework as a method of teaching food preparation skills while accommodating the strengths and weaknesses of participants.
The mother of one Ram Chef was amazed at how excited her daughter would be for the sessions, considering the young woman had never shown any prior interest in the kitchen. Another young man astounded his aunts by preparing three meals for them, showing them why for him, “Wednesday is the best day of the week.”
Each Ram Chef was asked to develop a signature dish. One chose a breakfast sandwich, another chicken curry. The exercise encouraged preference – freedom of choice regarding meals – which those with developmental disabilities often lack.
As a service program, Ram Chefs serves another purpose during the pandemic, Subach notes. “I wanted to engage our first-year and transfer students who had no prior experience being in person on our campus.”
Ameerah Stewart, graduate assistant for the Nutrition and Dietetics Department, found the Ram Chefs one-on-one mentoring invaluable. “The program gave me a sense of normalcy in a time when I did not get to spend time with others. Moreso, it gave me additional experience working with young adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities and honed my interpersonal and communication skills beyond what I could have imagined. During undergrad, I only had a couple of experiences working with this important and vulnerable population. The Ram Chefs program has opened my mind regarding barriers to healthy eating (e.g. motor issues, difficulty with measurements, and attentiveness) and vastly broadened my horizon as an upcoming nutrition professional.”
Subach sees “Ram Chefs as a model to serve as a path to independence for young adults with developmental disabilities.”
She plans to devote additional time to the initiative now that there is an opening in her schedule. Like many people during the pandemic, she was conducting a review of life in general and decided at the end of the pro basketball season to resign after 31 years as nutritionist for the Philadelphia 76ers. She wanted to refocus her energies, saying that two emails she received about her earlier research on nutritional education for the developmentally disabled “triggered my resignation from the Sixers.
“I was called to do this more purposeful work.”