Making Cooking into a Career: Easterseals Supports Michelle’s Culinary Dreams

Michelle wearing her chef coat

Ever since Michelle was a child, cooking has been a big part of her life. From learning how to prepare meals alongside her mom, to taking on some of the cooking responsibilities when her mom passed away, Michelle developed a dream to someday cook in a restaurant to support herself and her family.

Now, she is making that goal a reality by attending culinary school, with the support of Easterseals Southern California (ESSC).

When Michelle first came to Easterseals Adult Day Services (ADS), she was very shy and would not speak up about her wants and needs. But things started to change during the pandemic when she was paired up with Life Skills Coach Magdalena Laveaga, who had been a restaurant cook for 30 years prior to working at Easterseals.

Magdelena quickly discovered Michelle’s love for cooking, so she suggested they start cooking together virtually. Soon, this turned into them hosting virtual cooking classes for other participants. When ADS resumed in-person activities, Michelle hosted weekly cooking courses to teach peers her favorite recipes.

“It was good because I got to teach other people how to cook and how to cut up food and use the stove properly,” said Michelle.

But Michelle dreamed of doing even more with her skills. She wanted to make cooking a career so she could earn money and someday open her own restaurant. With the guidance and support of Easterseals, she applied to culinary school at Cerritos College, got accepted, and started classes in January 2024.

“She was dreaming about culinary school for many years, and I told her, if you want to do it, you’re going to do it,” said Magdalena. “We are here to help the dreams come true.”

One of the tools Easterseals used to support Michelle’s goal was the Personal Outcome Measure (POM) discovery process. This person-centered approach gives individuals the chance to express what they want to do with their life and establishes concrete steps to make them happen. By setting up a POMs interview with Michelle, Easterseals staff helped identify and support her ambitions.

“Easterseals supported her transition to student life from the beginning,” said Angelica Real, Director of Adult Day Services North. “Her coach taught her how to use the Access bus for transportation and went with her to the college to assist with her assessment, navigate financial aid, and sign up for classes. Easterseals was there for the first several weeks of school, accompanying her and giving her support as an adult.”

Now, Michelle has the tools and confidence to set up transportation on her own, both for school and for her daily life.

“I’ve seen her grow so much from the beginning,” said Magdelena. “She is totally different now and I feel really proud to see her in culinary school after we spent so many years cooking together.”

Michelle says that even though school is challenging, she enjoys it and is grateful for her Easterseals coach, who helped her every step of the way.

My coach helped me with the whole process of getting into culinary school and showing me cooking techniques,” said Michelle. “She’s also taught me not to be shy, but to be brave and never give up. I’m excited about the future. I’m hoping to graduate and open my business.” 

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