Hungry for jobs, people with Down syndrome learn to cook

From left, Casey Rivers, Ana de la Llata, Erica Castaneda, Lindsy Friel and Eva Weiner chop green onions at Wok This Way’s cooking class for teens and adults with Down syndrome. Students learned how to make fried rice. (Photo by Anya Magnuson/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – As a pan sizzles, grins and laughter fill the room. Young chefs chop carrots and thinly slice onions. Besides a meal, the students in this cooking class are preparing for job potential.

The teacher, Kris Mill, owner of Wok This Way, operates food trucks for a cause. Besides running a vegetarian and environmentally friendly business, she conducts a cooking class for people with Down syndrome. She wants to teach them to be independent, whether that is serving home-made meals or cooking their way into a restaurant job.

“Everybody has strengths and we just have to look at each other’s strengths and put them to use,” she said.

Jake Lipovitch peels an onion during a cooking class for people with Down syndrome. (Photo by Anya Magnuson/Cronkite News)

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 18 percent of people with disabilities were employed in 2017 compared to 65 percent of the abled population.

Mill said there are misconceptions that people with disabilities can only do limited work.

Leia Fiorenza, right, gets help from Kate Kenney as she chops carrots. Class students are learning a skill they can use at home or to get work as restaurant cooks. (Photo by Anya Magnuson/Cronkite News)

She said business owners might believe those with Down syndrome or another disability “work in limited facets and in small capacities. But they don’t understand what they can do, they just look at what they can’t.”

Her classes, she said, help people with Down syndrome learn to become restaurant or food-truck cooks.

At a recent cooking class, Mill brought in ten students with Down syndrome to help give them a kick start to a career.

“I want to come here to learn how to make dinner and stuff,” said student Frank Joseph.

Mill calls her work empowerment through employment and urges other business owners to follow her example. It’s worth the investment in time.

“Everyone with special needs can learn,” Mill said.

– Video by Samantha Lomibao

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