02/09/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 02/09/2024 11:01
CONWAY, S.C. - A quiet winter weeknight is winding down along the coast, but the Horry County Extension Office kitchen is abuzz with well-coordinated activity. In the middle of the din stands 11th-grader Ivy Prince, wearing a white chef's coat that reads: "You never know what you are capable of, until given the chance to try."
And that adage applies not only to the bustle taking place around her, but also to the Horry County homeschooled student responsible.
While Prince is the conductor of this symphony, the only music being made is when the group takes a break to dance to "Who Let the Dogs Out" before getting back to the real business of the night: cooking.
Cooking Capable is a series of workshops to teach differently abled middle and high school youth to prepare simple, affordable, nutritious and delicious meals - and it is Prince's brainchild, conceived along a journey that began with the South Carolina 4-H Healthy Habits Summit in Columbia.
"I liked culinary arts but didn't really see it as my future until I attended the Summit - and learned I loved it," she said. "But I still wasn't sure exactly how I wanted to use it because I also wanted to serve my community."
That conundrum led Prince to seek career guidance from Clemson Cooperative Extension Food Systems and Safety Associate Chad Carter - a former professional chef now better known simply as "Chef Chad" in Cooking Capable circles - during her trip to the state's capital.
"I had a great time working in kitchens," Carter said, "so I encouraged her to do a few things, maybe consider picking up a job in a restaurant, and give herself a chance to try."
As it now says on the back of her chef jacket, once she was given the chance to try, Prince found out just how much she is capable of.
Ivy's mom, Jennifer, said the Healthy Habits Summit and her experience with Carter were the genesis of what ultimately became the Cooking Capable program.
"Chef Chad was part of the turning point," Jennifer said. "He believed in her and told her to go in the kitchen and experiment and figure it out."
And those experiments led to a midnight brainstorm with friends and family that produced the idea of a cooking class for young people with disabilities - an idea that resonated with Ivy, who was already involved in serving the same community through her church.
"I have siblings with special needs, and that's why I liked that idea so much," she said. "The gears in my head started turning, and I couldn't stop thinking about it for months."
The gears turned so quickly that instead of thinking about it as a future career, something to pursue post-graduation after high school or college, Ivy knew she wanted to start working right away.
To Chef Chad, once Ivy was dialed in on her destination, she moved in her intended direction at a dizzying pace.
"I've seen her become actively involved in 4-H, she started working in restaurants and then she's developed this curriculum and this core program, Cooking Capable with Ivy, that is just incredible. We don't often see folks right out of the gate put something together like that," Carter said. "So, it's pretty impactful."
The mission of Clemson Extension 4-H Youth Development is to create safe, inclusive learning environments to support South Carolina's young people. Led by caring adults, supported by the expertise and resources of Clemson University, and connected to a nationwide land-grant university system, the program is geared to succeed no matter where it shows up.
But when Ivy began 4-H in 2019, she admits that she wasn't totally on board with the idea … nor was she given much choice.
With no existing 4-H club in their community, her mother was eager to start one. And since at least five kids from at least two separate families were required, so was Ivy's presence.
"Ivy said, 'Do I have to go? It's all about animals, and I'm not really interested,'" Jennifer recalls with a laugh. "So, I kind of dragged her kicking and screaming at first."
But what started as a two-family club with five members, in 5 years since, has blossomed into a thriving group that serves more than 70 members, all of whom have learned that 4-H is not just about animals, but an opportunity to grow in many directions.
That includes the one who arrived kicking and screaming.
"Most of my favorite school memories are doing something with 4-H," Ivy says.
Once she learned that 4-H is about service, being hands-on, leadership and getting into the community, that's when she really came on board. She's been working hard.JENNIFER PRINCE, MOTHER OF 4-H'ER IVY PRINCE
Service starts at home, or so the saying goes. And while Ivy is bringing Cooking Capable out into the community, she says much of the motivation was right at home all along.
"My older sister, Gray, is definitely an inspiration with the project," Ivy says. "She's on the autism spectrum, and she is one of my favorite people to cook with."
Ivy's younger sister, Lillie, who is 2 and has Down syndrome, also inspires her outreach, while her brother, Jerome, or "J.P.," has learning disabilities that can make simple tasks more challenging, according to Jennifer.
"He's a firecracker, but if places get too loud or too much is going on, it can be overstimulating for him," she said.
But Cooking Capable is a family affair for the Princes, who work as a team to ensure the experience is enjoyed by all. Ivy's father, Rome, lends a helping hand at the workshops, while her mother is quick to don an apron and assist in the kitchen.
And while Ivy is very much in charge, Jennifer says her daughter's calm demeanor belies an anxiety disorder that can cause feelings of being overwhelmed for Ivy, too.
"To see her push through that, too, herself is pretty amazing," Jennifer said. "I'm pretty much in awe of her and who she's able to be and who she's able to talk to."
Cooking Capable caters to the needs of participants by moving at a comfortable pace in an inclusive environment. "There are fitness activities included, as well," Ivy says. "To teach about overall health."
But the program's success has been built on more than teaching. At a recent Horry County Council meeting, Ivy presented Cooking Capable and plans for its future to local public officials. She's also received multiple 4-H grants and recently nabbed her biggest funding yet: a $10,000 national grant to grow the program.
Horry County 4-H Youth Development Agent Miracle Rabon says Ivy's desire to help those with disabilities has been the driving force behind her success.
"She had her first grant interview, virtually, at the Extension office and showed them the space in our kitchen where she wanted to host the workshops," Rabon recalls. "After another interview, she was awarded the grant and has since applied for several other grants. And after she spoke with Horry County Council, I think they're going to be contributing funds to the project, as well."
This is what Clemson Extension and its affiliate 4-H programs strive to do for all of South Carolina's youth.
"Miracle was the first person I brought the project to, and she's been a great help with advertising and connections," Ivy says. "She was there with me at Horry County Council, as well, and has supported me every step along the way."
Ivy credits Horry County Extension Agent Chase Baillie for helping with recipes, workshop scheduling and other logistics, along with food safety expertise, which is the primary focus of Baillie's work as part of Extension's Food Systems and Safety Team.
"Our mission, as far as our team goes, has always been to help prevent the spread of foodborne illness and reduce the incidence of foodborne illness outbreaks. Food safety is important, no matter who you are. Germs don't care. So, part of our mission is to give people skills and knowledge to practice safe food-handling skills and incorporate those into all our activities," Baillie said.
Carter, meanwhile, led the culinary workshop that sparked Ivy's vision and has helped with numerous follow-up questions since.
The 4-H Healthy Habits Summit that sparked Cooking Capable also inspired Ivy to look for further 4-H opportunities, which led her to apply for, and receive, a scholarship to go to Washington D.C., for the Ignite by 4-H conference - a 4-day experience where teens connect, make memories and find their spark by exploring the best 4-H has to offer.
"I made so many friends and got to see their passion for serving their communities," she said.
But to her mom, Ivy's passion and the Cooking Capable journey both go back to something they've talked about at home for years.
"We've instilled in Ivy to think in terms of, 'Is one person worth it?'" Jennifer said. "Is one person worth doing something for? And our mentality has always been, 'Yes, you can change the world by changing that person's world - that one person's world.' And this all sprang from there."