‘I’m confident.’ Deaf student leads Kitchen School classmates

May 15, 2023

LaShaunda Tingle’s (pictured left) smile lights up a room. She exudes a humble confidence. “That’s me. That’s who I am,” she signs, and Mona, her interpreter, speaks the words. A student in the Food Bank of Delaware’s Kitchen School in Milford; LaShaunda is deaf and communicates through American Sign Language and her interpreter.

The Kitchen School – offered at both our Newark and Milford sites – is a free 12-week food service training program designed for adults with disabilities. The Kitchen School represents a partnership between the Delaware Restaurant Association and the Food Bank in collaboration with teachers and counselors specializing in work with individuals with disabilities. Students spend  eight weeks at the Food Bank kitchen learning kitchen safety and sanitation and cooking skills; after that, an additional four weeks is spent transitioning to permanent employment through on-site job coaching.

Kitchen School staff assists students in finding partner employers, and students and employers receive support for at least one year after graduation.

LaShaunda and her classmates in Milford started The Kitchen School on April 10 and will graduate July 13. This former bus aide and school custodian found her way to this program through a friend. “I’m confident; I’m not afraid to approach hearing people. One of my best friends suggested I might try it to see if I like it. Now, she’s coming here in the fall. I’m the brave friend,” she said with that trademark smile.

She learned to sign starting at age 5 attending the School for the Deaf in Newark through her educational career.  It’s a skill she enjoys sharing. “I’ve taught them [her classmates] some sign language,” she said.

LaShaunda says she loves to cook, and cooks regularly for her family: chicken, macaroni and cheese, banana pudding, collards, but her specialty is baked beans, ground beef, onions, and peppers; it’s the dish they request for special occasions, she reports.

“I am happy here, and it inspires me to do more,” she said. “I want to represent what a deaf person can do. I want to show my family I can. I’m very able.”

Chef Instructor Shalisa Alexander agrees. “She is one of the leaders in this class. She handles a knife very well and follows recipes. I think she would do very well in the Culinary School.”

Another thing Chef Shalisa notices is the class focuses on one another’s abilities, rather than disabilities, and students support each other, learn from one another, and have excelled in the kitchen. “They keep me on my toes and forced me to be creative; last week, they made eclairs and cream puffs.”

These are all experiences LaShaunda has enjoyed, and she cherishes the new relationships that have developed.  “I’m really enthusiastic. I push forward. I show that it can be done. I’m a representative. I’m very positive.,” LaShaunda said. “I feel like we are family.”

Click here to learn more about The Kitchen School; a new class will start in the fall.


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