Yum Yum program offers more than just brownies and lunch, it’s a learning experience

Yum Yum program offers more than just brownies and lunch, it's a learning experience

If you stroll down to the room where Yum Yum operates you will find special needs students learning many crafts including embroidering. The students learn to cook lunch, sew and much more. (Heahter Butler photo)

If you follow your nose down to the end of the school to the last hallway on Main Street, you will find your way into the Yum Yum kitchen. There you will find several students scooping cookie dough, putting potatoes in an oven, and making change for a customer. Off to the side there are students setting up a Christmas tree complete with twinkling lights, an embroidery machine humming in the corner of the room while at the same time other students are making holiday cards at the stamping station.

“We’re always busy doing something. We do anything you may think is an odd job,” Yum Yum director Karen Cothran said, “Our kids can learn a skill which in turn gives our kids a variety of different things to do every day while teaching them something new.”

Yum Yum is a program for students with special needs where they can learn different things that will help them succeed in the real world. The focus of the program is to help the students learn a trade and be able to get a job and hold down that job so that they can support themselves after graduation.

“You take the small and protected area of school and they can then take that and expand it to the real world,” teacher Medgar Roberts said.

The Yum Yum program serves lunches to teachers everyday. Each student has various jobs cooking the food, helping put the lunches in boxes and sacks and helping count the money. Occasionally Mrs. Cothran admits there are mistakes, but the customers are supportive and help the students fix the problems.

“It’s really cool that customers understand that my kids need help,” Cothran said. “It is nice to see other people guide my students as well.”

The students enjoy their time in the kitchen. They meet new people every day while working and completing their orders.

“I can fill up the drink machine and bake brownies and cookies,” special needs senior Dean Nelson said. “My favorite part is making brownies, and making a lot of friends.”

Yum Yum doesn’t only make baked goods and lunches. The students make holiday cards and gift bags. They embroider designs on anything ranging from towels to Christmas stockings and even shirts for organizations.

“When people walk in here and see the kids working they are amazed that the kids are doing all of these things,” Cothran said. “We are always busy, but it’s fun and I love it.”

Yum Yum has taken a hands on approach to education by providing the students with experience that will help them not only in high school but in the workforce. The students are working in a business while also learning life skills to help them after high school.

“It’s real world application. It’s what people say education should be about in the first place,” Roberts said. “They can contribute and make the world a better place, while also helping themselves.”

Yum Yum is popular among teachers in the school. The program has accounts for teachers so they can pay for their lunch or other items. There are some teachers who order their lunch from Yum Yum everyday. Teachers such as Stephanie Talbot are regular faces in the Yum Yum kitchen at lunch time.

“I keep going back because it’s quality food and I really believe in the program,” Talbot said. “The special needs kids are able to feel like they’re worthwhile, while also making a quality product.”

Teacher Cosandra Altizer says Yum Yum has made a significant impact on some students in the program while helping them choose life paths.

“We have one kid who’s dream is to become a chef, so every opportunity he gets he wants to work in the kitchen,”  Altizer said. “We’ve even had a few kids go on to the culinary arts class with all of those kids and learn even more skills.”

The Yum Yum program couldn’t run without some help. Teacher’s aids come in and volunteer their time when they have free time and help the special needs students. They also have a few regular education students who lend a helping hand as well.

“I think working with Yum Yum is a good experience for me in the long run,” junior helper Patience Dibie said. “I like helping people. It makes me feel like a role model to the kids that come in and don’t know how to do the recipes.”

Yum Yum came from humble beginnings. The program started out making cookies and brownies. Now it has grown to offering a full menu and several services including catering community and school events.

” It was never my intent to start a catering service. But on the other hand it was the best way for the kids to get exposure, learn their skills and show off their talents,” Cothran said. “So what started out as this little thing has now turned into this huge vocational program we have.”