May 11, 2023

Ram Chef Cooking Program Expands to Serve-up Independence & Self-Determination to a Greater Number of Young Adults with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities

7 Ram Chefs’ Culinary Skills Will be Featured During WCU Employee Appreciation on May 16

Ram Chefs are pictured following snack-prep. Pictured (sitting l to r) are Amy Vermeil, Patrick Ray, and (standing) TJ Fulginiti.

Powered by a mighty nutrition professor who came up with a delicious way to help young adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities (IDD) in the community gain cooking independence and self-confidence, the Ram Chef Program provides culinary instruction, nutrition education and food safety skills to eager young adults with IDD during the academic year in a new state-of-the art culinary kitchen at West Chester University. Ram Chefs are paired with WCU nutrition coaches for personal instruction. Professor of Nutrition Jeanie Subach, a registered dietitian and board-certified sports specialist dietician, came up with the idea in 2019 and began the program with just three students. Today, the popular Ram Chef Program boasts 18 young adults with IDD from the community who work with 26 volunteers every Wednesday evening during the academic year in the University’s nutrition lab located in The Sciences & Engineer Center and The Commons (SECC).

During WCU Employee Appreciation on Tuesday, May 16, seven of the Ram Chefs will be making and serving “Philly-themed mocktails” for all University employees, 11:45 a.m. – 2 p.m., in the bustling new foods laboratory located in the SECC at 155 University Avenue in West Chester (2nd ;Floor, Room #201). The Ram Chef stars will serve-up yummy creations during a festive afternoon designed to celebrate WCU employees and the spirit of Philadelphia.

“The program’s mission is to train young adults with IDD in the culinary arena with a goal of cooking independence and employment. The mission is being satisfied with seven Ram Chefs securing jobs in the food industry right on campus — with Aramark Dining Services,” said Subach.

Throughout the academic year, the Ram Chefs prepare snacks for the WCU Athletic Fueling Station. The Ram Chefs will also prepare sport fuel and meals for WCU Campabilities 2023. In addition to cooking, the participants maintain an eight-bed Ram Chef garden from May through November.

The Ram Chef Program has received more than $40,000 in grant funding from the Justamere Foundation and the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council. These grants fund the food and equipment portion of the program. The Ram Chef Program is free to participants, is supported with University resources and is run by WCU faculty and student volunteers.

“Three of our Ram Chefs have been coming to campus since they were six years-old,” Subach added.  “Our newest Ram Chef, TJ, is the biggest WCU sports fan! He goes to all the men's and women's basketball games and knows the stats of every player. Our Ram Chefs are a big part of WCU. We see that teaching adults with IDD to perform activities to promote independence, with the least amount of assistance, improves their self-determination and independence.”

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