Developing Impactful Arts-Focused Programs How the host of Check Please! is making a difference in education.
Written by: Catherine De Orio
In recent years, arts programs have been cut from schools as curriculum has shifted towards common core subjects such as math and reading. While art education is seen as a luxury to many, creative activities and classes are some of the most important building blocks of development, from infancy to adulthood. Arts programs of all kinds from painting to cooking have been correlated to achieving success in school, as well as in work and life.
Although numerous studies have linked arts programs to increased math and science skills, college admissions, as well as essential life skills, these valuable programs at schools across the country continue to be cut due to budgets. When cutting programs, schools remove those with the least ‘direct’ impact on learning, which many believe are art-related subjects. While not always apparent, cutting art and music programs from schools not only harms students, but also communities. Beyond taking away the opportunity to build important skills, schools without arts-focused programs leave students without an outlet for creativity and expression.
Cities across the United States continue to be affected by this issue. With such little public funding, many schools rely on private funds and donors to provide creative outlets for students. Another growing trend is nonprofit organizations either setting aside funding for arts education or developing programs in partnership with these schools, providing hope to students. Many organizations recognize this issue, and play a part in bringing back the arts by creating programs for young people.
At Kendall College Trust, a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit providing need-based financial support to students pursuing degrees in hospitality, culinary arts, and business at Chicago’s premier culinary school, Kendall College, we bring back the arts one summer at a time. In 2016, we developed a summer culinary camp for Chicago’s underserved youth in an effort to bring back the arts and provide a creative outlet for these students. Through a partnership with CPS and C-CAP (Careers Through Culinary Arts Program), the impactful program introduces culinary skills to high school students in impoverished areas of Chicago, sparking interest in future careers.
In its second year, our program helps a select number of CPS students attend culinary camps at Kendall College, keeping kids productive and establishing a career path early. In addition to building important skills, the camp builds meaningful relationships, forging connections at a pivotal time in students’ lives. Following last year’s successful summer program, we added a second session this summer, making camp available for two different age groups. Doubling in size since its inception, the program now gives 48 students the opportunity to stay in Kendall College dorms and get their feet wet in the culinary world, learning everything from cooking to restaurant operations. The camp also expands kids’ horizons, not only building culinary skills, but also opening their minds to Chicago’s culture and community. Bringing together a group with similar backgrounds and interests, students ultimately form a network of like-minded individuals who can stay connected after the camp and support each other’s future endeavors.
Partnering with CPS and C-CAP, a national nonprofit working in conjunction with CPS to prepare students for culinary careers, summer culinary camp opens the door for young people who may not otherwise have the chance to become the next generation of industry leaders. One summer at a time, we give this gift to students at an early age, not only establishing career goals, but also providing the tools to reach those goals.
During the summer, these young adults have the chance to learn cooking and baking skills, behind-the-scenes restaurant operations, and even help out in some of the city’s best restaurant kitchens, all while staying in Kendall College’s dorms. From basic cooking and knife cutting skills to operational techniques and nutrition education, the camps offer a well-rounded experience. In addition to time in Kendall College’s kitchens and classrooms, campers also embark on cultural excursions, reveling in all that Chicago has to offer. From attending Broadway in Chicago shows and dining at Michelin-starred restaurants, to visiting Navy Pier, The Art Institute, and urban gardens, students experience it all.
Summer culinary camp started as an idea, and with hard work, dedication and collaborations, it turned into a reality. Organizations of all sizes can make an impact by developing programs and initiatives that bring back the arts. Whether the program is focused on theatre, music, or cooking, art-focused initiatives are essential to the success of today’s youth – the leaders of tomorrow. Regardless of how large or small the cause, every program and donation makes a difference, and there are many ways for organizations to make an impact. Partnering with a school or an established organization is a good place to start when developing arts-focused programs. As the partnership grows, the program will continue making a difference and becoming more impactful year-after-year.
Catherine De Orio left a successful but personally unfulfilling career in the courtroom to pursue her passion in the kitchen. Now a formally trained chef in addition to a “recovering attorney,” she has expertly combined her skills from both career paths to create a full-time brand as a lifestyle expert, media spokesperson, journalist, web editor, and public speaker. Known to many Chicagoans as the host of Emmy award-winning dining review show Check, Please!, Catherine travels the country to dish on the food scene.
When not traveling and dining out, Catherine serves as Executive Director of Kendall College Trust. In this capacity, she raises scholarship funds for culinary and hospitality students in financial need attending Chicago’s Kendall College, as well as mentors students in the culinary, hospitality and business fields. Follow Catherines’s journey on Instagram @Catdeorio and Twitter @CatCalls.