When the world doesn’t provide what you’re looking for, sometimes you have to go do it yourself. Suzanne Taylor was in this situation as she watched her adolescent son growing into adulthood. For her son, Kaden Taylor, the future looked to be one with few options. He had been born with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and while there are some programs in the public schools for individuals with disabilities, after graduation, the prospects are few and far between. Taylor wanted her son to enter adulthood with opportunities and a future, so she created the D.I.S.H Foundation to help fill that need.
“When they age out of the school system, not only do they lose a support system, but they also lose the social aspect of life, which is important to as human beings,” Taylor says. “And they lose their skills training. They can’t get a job because they don’t have experience, and they can’t get the experience because they can’t get a job. That inspired me to do something about it.”
D.I.S.H. stands for Dignity, Independence, Sense of Purpose, and Hope. The foundation’s mission is to employ persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). The basis of the organization is to teach individuals culinary skills they can use in the workplace. The foundation started with vocational training in 2019. After a COVID interruption, training is once again in action, and applications can be filled out on their website.
The trainings take place at Our Kitchen, which was the second step in Taylor helping create employment opportunities for people with IDD. This coffee shop and restaurant is located in a shipping container at The Portal Container Village. Vocational training is for individuals who are close to entering the job market. Most are 18+ with no age limit, but there are a few older teens, including Kaden, turns 18 on April 23rd. For younger participants, D.I.S.H offers respite cooking where kids, starting around 5th or 6th grade, can come in, have fun with dough, and learn cooking skills. Both classes are seasonal at this time because of the location, but Taylor is looking for options to make it year-round.
Our Kitchen is far more than a training location, it is a fully operational coffee shop and restaurant. The employees are individuals with IDD who have undergone the D.I.S.H vocational training. While there are always volunteers assisting in the container, the only paid employees are people with IDD. The Our Kitchen team can whip up your favorite coffee drink to accompany their scratch-made treats like cinnamon rolls, scones, and banana bread. They also offer savory options like soft pretzels, chicken taquitos, and gluten-free chicken quiche. Specials are regularly offered so that the Our Kitchen staff can stretch and show off their culinary skills.
Our Kitchen’s first season was in 2022. While it had its bumps, like all new businesses, the community received it well, and it was an overall success.
“The individuals that were working there enjoyed their job. They were committed to their job and showed up early. I never had to worry about them not showing up or not putting forth their effort; they had incredible work ethic,” Taylor says. “One of our students that came in at the beginning of summer could cook every item on the menu by the end.”
If you can’t make it into Our Kitchen, you can still enjoy the fruits of the D.I.S.H foundation by watching their videos. “Cooking with Kaden” segments were a product of COVID when classes were put on hold. Each episode contains clear instructions for safely cooking a common dish. In addition to having the fun of creating the videos, it helped keep up the organization’s awareness. They also created the show “Get DISHed,” where contestants battle it out in a cooking show challenge.
With this year’s season just kicking off, Taylor and the rest of the D.I.S.H Foundation are excited to return to the kitchen, learning about and making food. In addition to volunteers helping with classes, shows, and at Our Kitchen, a team of board members is behind the scenes helping promote and grow the organization.
If you’re interested in getting involved or supporting the organization, they’re always looking for volunteers and ways to partner with the community. For a complete list of upcoming events, ways to get involved, or to see episodes of their shows, you can go to www.dishfoundation.net. To see Our Kitchen’s menu and hours of operation, visit www.ourkitchenbellingham.com or stop in at 296 West Laurel Street.