HOCC: “I am doing what I want to do”

Humans of Calvert County, Sarah Merranko & Anita Santoyo

“It sounds like I never got out of Calvert, but I did! I left and I went to James Madison University. I loved it so much, I didn’t want to graduate. I wanted to stay there forever!

When I graduated Highschool, I was one of the kids that’s said ‘yes, I’m graduating, I’m leaving and I’m never coming back!’ Everybody says that! And now I’m back! And the same thing happened to my husband. He taught for a year in Honduras, he lived in Chicago and everything brought him back here.

And so we are both of the mindset that we want to stay here. Our goal is to just be here, dig roots and invest where we are and if God opened a door for us somewhere else, we would be obedient, but he’s worked really hard to get us here. I don’t plan on going anywhere else. I don’t want to go anywhere else!

Everybody thinks that you’re going to graduate and then go get this great job in your major with this new degree you have. I
was going to work at the hospital down here and it was pretty much a done deal and then they said that the funding didn’t come through.

So I was just doing things on the side, I was taking care of a girl who had just broken her leg and I got a long term babysitting job. And so I was fresh out of college and my best friend at the time worked at End Hunger and she said we need somebody for 10 hours a week just coordinating volunteers for events. And so I started with that and they just kept adding a little bit more and a little bit more. It became more and more and then eventually I was full time.

So it’s been very interesting to see how God has closed doors that I thought I would be walking through. He’s just been so gracious, and like okay we’re going to go this way and go this way. And I’ve seen enough that His plan is better than mine so now I’m like, okay I’ll just go with it and wait and see what happens.

Now, I’m the instructor of the Culinary Training Program at End Hunger. This program started years ago and it’s morphed over the years. I’m not a professional chef. I get to teach a lot of the soft skills and I get to coordinate our guest speakers…they’re the professionals. They get to come and teach and then I can just love the students. It’s really cool because it’s all people from the community, they come in, and they give their time for free.

We have traditional and inclusive classes. The traditional classes do the ServSafe certification manager exam. The inclusive classes will be ServSafe certification as a food handler.

In our traditional classes, there’s not one cookie-cutter student that comes through. We had somebody who was in her eighties! She wanted to start a business making sweet potato pies…so cute!

We started getting phone calls and emails…..we see you offer the culinary training program…..is this something my kid with a developmental disability can do?

So we started the inclusive classes. We took all of the same pieces, we slowed the pace down a little bit, but they still go through the ServSafe certification because it’s very valuable.

They all graduate with a ServSafe certificate, they do knife skills, we just make some modifications.

Everybody comes in with a different disability. We’ve had students with autism, students with Down syndrome, severe ADHD, all kinds of different things.

It’s not just teaching them how to cook, it’s not just helping them get a job, their confidence and their ability to function as a member of society increases.

They want to serve people. And the cool thing about cooking is it’s a skill that opens up job opportunities but it’s also a skill that you need in general for life.

If they have been more included in society, if they are able to do more for themselves, then we see that as being successful.

It’s just a really cool thing.

They are who they are, which is so beautiful, and you have to be willing to meet them where they are instead of expecting a class that’s expecting everyone to conform to the class. And that’s the beautiful thing about the small classes. It allows me to get to know each student and be able to adjust for each of them.

In the new End Hunger Warehouse, we’re going to have our own space, we’ll be able to serve more students because we won’t be limited by kitchen space, I think we’ll be able to have more volunteer opportunities because if we have a bigger kitchen, bigger space, more students, then I can have more people come in and help. Having a consistent space that we know isn’t going to change, we don’t have to move, and having storage. I’m hugely excited!

It’s hard to think further down the road. I just feel like so many people, my age, my generation, they want purposeful, meaningful, life-changing work and I already get to do that.

I am doing what I want to do. It’s been just a gradual process and now we’re here!”

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