The opportunity to run our first camp allowing us to serve kids presented itself last fall after a conversation Jennifer, a fellow board member, and I had with the CEO of Bill Wilson Center, Ms. Sparky Harlan. The result of that conversation was a partnership and the idea of a 10 day Culinary and Life Skills Building Camp to be held at the Bill Wilson Center. At that very moment I knew who I needed to reach out to for help in making this happen.

I immediately called a meeting with some of the most talented young chefs I know, whom I had the honor of teaching over the years in a culinary program at Wilcox High School that I had created back in 1994. We met and talked about the power of food, family and future. I shared my vision for the camp and how they could participate and they quickly came on board. Their enthusiasm, expertise and belief in the vision and mission of Justin’s House proved to be the winning combination that made the camp so successful.

The success was also due largely because some of their own life stories and experiences as teens mirrored what many of the kids we wish to serve might look like. This group shared a desire to give back to their community through the medium of food which had helped them feel hopeful and successful at times when they felt otherwise. Here are some of their comments:

This program is a healthy, safe and welcoming communal learning experience for all the kids.
Chef Emily
What drew me to donate my time to Justin’s House is my direct connection to the founder and to the man that inspired its creation. Knowing Justin and what JH stands for inspires me to contribute.
Chef Rizi
Summer camp 2016 kids in kitchen preparing food with chef and volunteers
Kids preparing meal in kitchen under chef
I am helping out with this camp because everyone is involved one way or another with food. I’m not so good at a lot of things but I am good at cooking and it is a great outlet for a lot of reasons.
Chef Dylan
The fact that food has always brought people together made it clear to me I wanted to be a chef. I believe it’s a great way to teach life skills through food. It teaches what a family can truly be, how to work in a group and how to fail and continue on.
Chef Jessika
I chose to help with this program because I was young once and had my problems and cooking was my way out. I am now happy with my work and my life and what I have done so far. I’m here to bring my flaws to the table and show what not to do or do.
Chef Allan
Kinds enjoying prepared food with volunteers and chef.
Kids preparing food at Justin
Kids are the future and it’s important to help early on when we can make a difference. Justin was a great man who had a big influence on my life and I’m happy to help in any way I can.
Chef Kiel
Food has definitely been an outlet, a time of meditation, and an ever-evolving goal that has pushed me and continually taught me life skills. I decided to participate in this camp to give back to you, Ms. V.
Chef Jarrell

Our camp ran from July 18th- July 29th. We had 14 participants, ages 10-17 with some connection to alcohol use and/or abuse. They cooked in the mornings with one of the chef instructors, sometimes 2 or 3 of them. We sat down, shared family meal and conversation and participated in life skills building workshops in the afternoons. It was a lot of work but I believe we impacted lives through this experience. We learned things that will help us plan for our camp next summer and we made some strong connections with other nonprofits and professionals in our community. We will be working with this group of kids all year and will invite them to bring a friend so that our community, our “tribe”, if you will, grows.

We are forever grateful for all of the volunteers who helped to make our first program of work a success. We plan to continue gathering momentum and it is our strong belief that our own location will come to us soon so that we may hang up our banner in the window and be able to provide a safe place for kids to come for help on a regular basis.