Founder Leanne Burton assists Jenna Walters during a cheese-making workshop. (courtesy SpoonScouts)
There’s something therapeutic about handling and preparing food: selecting the right ingredients, working out the mental poetry of how they’ll come together, even just admiring the satisfying snowiness of sugar, the baby-softness of a raspberry. It’s elemental. Leanne Burton, founder of SpoonScouts, knows this. And she knows it’s beneficial for people of all ages and abilities.
Currently, her hands-on, workshop-based culinary development project serves young people with intellectual disabilities by giving them opportunities to learn how to cook. And it’s a beautiful thing.
Inspired by Burton’s two siblings with special needs — who also inspired her degree in psychology from VCU — SpoonScouts was born at Barnes & Noble’s Mini Maker Faire last November when Burton realized she could teach a workshop she’d been developing. “They needed people to get involved with workshops relating to STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] projects,” she says. “I had been thinking of this workshop about how to teach children to work with chocolate, and in doing so, learn about physical properties of things: solids, liquids and gasses, a lesson in matter properties.” The former Chocolates by Kelly apprentice and Richmond Autism Integration Network intern wound up running a demo at the event, and though she didn’t know how many would attend, Burton drew a large crowd. “People wanted to know how to get involved and when the next workshop was.”
SpoonScouts currently works with young participants who have ADD/ADHD or autism, but Leanne hopes to expand the project — and its facilities — to kids with cerebral palsy, spina bifida and other disabilities. Chocolate is still on the menu in its programs, as are pastry arts courses and knife skills for vegetable cutting. In early July, the program even hosted a cheese-making workshop, demo and tasting session for special-needs children.
Because SpoonScouts doesn’t yet have a dedicated space, workshops take place in locations around Chesterfield County, with a maximum of eight kids participating at a time. Another goal for the program is to invite children of all ability levels. “I’d love to integrate all children, to create that sense of community and partnership between them, have them working together,” Burton says. “This kind of responsibility really allows kids to come out of their shells.”
If you’re interested in the activities and whereabouts of SpoonScouts, keep up with the program on Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr. Love what SpoonScouts does and know of a wheelchair-accessible kitchen space? Get in touch with Burton at firstname.lastname@example.org.