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Dark, Dingy and Divided: A Look at the Center Prior to its Remodel

Built in the 1960’s, the Welker Smucker Culinary Arts Center has served a variety of purposes. What began as a service building at Boys’ Village in Wooster, Ohio morphed into a place for staff offices, youth programs and everything in between.

The center was last renovated in 2014 and was in desperate need of an update. Boys’ Village Maintenance Supervisor Mike Ballinger works to ensure all Boys’ Village facilities are free of hazards and in good condition, and he said the center was due for a revamp.

“It was a mish mash of different styles: it had some brick, some dry wall, some cinder block. There were different style carpets; it was old and dingy,” Ballinger said. “This building needed a facelift.”

The building served both staff and youth. The left side of the building was carpeted staff offices while the right side was a vinyl-floored kitchen and small classroom for youth culinary arts programming. A strip of carpet ran through the middle of the building, dividing the offices from the kitchen. The blended flooring made for unsanitary conditions; carpeting and food prep are rarely a good combination.

The divided center also had multiple walls, creating a dark, closed-off environment. This atmosphere made caring for youth with dark, troubled pasts problematic.

Hospitality Vocational Teacher and Recreational Behavior Management Specialist Shari Parson regularly worked with youth in the old building and said the layout of the building was less than ideal. She agreed it was time for a renovation.

“You do what you have to do, but the new building definitely makes it easier to do my work,” Parson said.

Brighter and Better: A picture of the Benefits Brought by the Center Renovation

The Welker Smucker Culinary Arts Center received it’s much needed renovation in summer 2016. The updated center took three months to complete and now allows staff like Parson to be more creative with how they care for youth.

Ballinger and his team led the renovation and began by tearing down interior walls to create an open concept dining room. The room seats 23 people and is complemented with youth-grown herb gardens, educational wall decor and two large windows.

“Some of the boys have issues with boundaries, so the openness of the new building is good for them,” Parson said. “It’s a better teaching atmosphere.”

In the dining room, Parson teaches the boys hospitality management skills, which expands the culinary arts program to be more than just a cooking class. The boys learn in a hands-on environment because the dining room serves as a place to practice their new skills, like learning how to set tables and fold napkins for special occasions.

The dining room also has vinyl wood floors that flow throughout the building. The kitchen, however, is finished with ceramic tile, which allows for easy clean up and more sanitary cooking conditions.

“With the new ceramic tiling, we can actually use it as a kitchen,” Ballinger said.

The center’s kitchen is home to durable stainless steel appliances like a 6-burner range, bread ovens, a three-compartment sink, prep tables and two refrigerators. Drawers of pots, pans and cooking utensils are also available to youth using the facility.

In the spring, Parson and the boys used the various appliances and kitchen gadgets to make homemade chocolates. They later toured Harry London Chocolate Factory in North Canton, Ohio so Parson could show the boys how their kitchen experiences can seamlessly translate into the workforce.

In addition to the dining room and kitchen, the center also has a classroom for the boys to learn and study the culinary arts. The classroom is complete with textbooks, a white board, chef coats, a table and a Smart TV.

The interior walls of the center are painted with warm pastel colors, which help establish a positive, non-threatening environment. No room is without windows, making it easy for Parson and other staff to monitor the youth, regardless of what part of the center they are in.

“We have to keep the boys within eyesight at all times,” Parson said. “The openness of the building helps me see the boys in different places, and it gives them more freedom. There’s great visibility; I can see everybody.”

The center now meets a variety of youth needs and accommodates hospitality vocational programming, horticulture therapy and partial hospitalization group, which is a group session all youth living in Boys’ Village cottages attend.

“There’s a lot of traffic in here, it’s used quite a bit,” Parson said.

The newly renovated Welker Smucker Culinary Arts Center has opened many doors for both staff and youth and created new avenues in which staff can reach struggling youth.

“The more you can expose the boys to different opportunities, the more roads they see they can take in life,” Parson said. “That’s what my job is all about; teaching them that they’re not stuck in the life they came from.”

The positive outcomes of the renovation were only possible because our partners and sponsors chose to invest in the center and its staff.

Read about our partnership with Wayne County Schools Career Center, meet the companies who funded our remodel project and see where we spent our money in our second post, It Takes A Village: Meet our Supporters.

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