Putting mental health supports on the front burner
Coast Mental Health has been offering its Culinary Training Program since 2014.
Over 150 young people living with mental illness have benefited from the program. Many have gone on to work in the hospitality sector; others have gained the confidence they needed to return to school or pursue other careers.
One ingredient remains constant
While the program has evolved over the years, one ingredient has been a constant: providing participants with mental health support. Integral to the program is allowing the students to work on their personal wellness throughout their training.
The Culinary Training Program, which is completely funded by our generous donors, offers participants the opportunity to develop, explore, and use skills within a professional kitchen environment.
The students are between 19 and 30 years of age. They spend five weeks learning basic cooking skills after which they take part in a five-week practicum placement at the Social Crust Cafe & Catering, Pacific Coast Apartments, our Resource Centre, or Burnham Place. Some go on to work at the Social Crust Café.
Margaret Flynn, a Red-Seal-certified chef, manages the program and is its lead instructor.
“The program is a stepping stone; we are one piece of a person’s journey,” she said. “What we’re teaching—the opportunity we’re giving—is building confidence, offering connections, and creating foundational employment skills. We’re a unique program. We’re not here to build chefs; we’re here to provide an opportunity to work on those skills.”
Margaret works closely with Anna Masangkay, a mental health worker who works one-on-one with the students to identify their strengths. Anna provides essential skills training and connects students with external supports. She also works with them on their post-program goals.
“These skills help the students to learn how to manage complex situations that can arise in a busy workplace,” said Anna Masangkay, a mental health worker assigned to the Culinary Training program. “They include things like organizing your day, managing your time, and communication skills.”
In the words of one of our grads, “The Culinary Training Program gave me community, independence, and confidence. Specifically, the confidence to act. I used to worry all the time about what could go wrong; now I say to myself just go for it!”
Gwen has completing one of Coast Mental Health's culinary workshops. Gwen is now happily employed at the Social Crust Cafe and Catering.
Mental health supports
Students enrolled in the program also receive access to our popular Brain Training Program. They spend one day a week using specially designed computer games that allow them to proceed through different levels at their own pace. Board games that require critical thinking are also part of this brain training.
These exercises help students process information. Different techniques help them build skills to keep their cognitive functioning in better shape. The brain training games are tailored to match their real-life situations and to work with them to determine their goals and what’s needed to achieve those.
Community Cooking Club
Coast recently launched a once-a-month Community Cooking Club. The drop-in sessions allow people who do not meet the more formal program’s criteria or are not sure a 10-week program to gain hands-on experience and exposure to working in a kitchen.
Participants also build connections with Margaret and Anna, tour the kitchen space, and get a better sense of whether the Culinary Training Program would be a good fit for them.
Each student has a chance to create a work plan and then execute the menu. They learn how to read a recipe, use a knife safely, and try different cooking techniques. Each session ends with enjoying the prepared food.
We’re hoping the club is another recipe for success and encourage interested people to get in touch.