Hands-On-Food – Rikers Island

Give Someone a Meal… Help Feed Them Once.

Teach Someone to Cook… Help Give Them a Life.

For some, being in jail may be the end of the line. For others, it can be a new beginning, thanks to a unique organization called Hands-On-Food. Working in conjunction with the New York Board of Education, Lauren created a culinary program that continues to provide two classes per day, Monday through Friday, for young women confined at Rikers Island. Lauren’s classes, however, have never been limited to just cooking techniques. Students also discover how food, cooking and eating can be transformed from mechanical movements into acts of self-love and a deliberate (and memorable) way to express devotion to others.

Lauren Groveman founded Hands-On-Food (a non-profit corporation), in September of 2000, after volunteering to teach cooking classes for men living at the correctional facility on Rikers Island, in Queens, New York. Her classes there felt so valuable to her that she wanted to go deeper; she wanted desperately to teach the female population at Riker’s as well, but lacking their own kitchen facility, this was just not feasible. Resolved as ever, Lauren decided to start the Hands-On-Food organization. She set out to collect enough donations, both monetary and material, to build a special room—a room that would provide discernible light within a place of considerable darkness. Through much hard work, determination and persistence, Hands-On-Food assembled an extremely efficient, fully-equipped teaching kitchen in the Rose M. Singer Pavilion, in the high school facility on the female side of Rikers Island. This was the first time a culinary arts program was offered to the female inmates. Although, in spring of 2009, the students were moved to another building and are now using a kitchen funded solely by the Board of Education, the culinary program conceived by Lauren and Hands-On-Food is still going strong.

A Natural Expansion

Although Lauren’s classes on Rikers were originally confined to teaching culinary skills, it didn’t stay that way. Over the past decade, the scope of her professional life (and volunteer teaching) broadened to include the knowledge and skills she obtained as a Certified Professional Life Coach. In addition to teaching the many benefits derived from making thoughtful home cooking a priority, Lauren also volunteers her time and skill to teach universal spiritual principles and self-mastery skills to incarcerated male and female adolescents. Her strong belief is that by learning tools to push through old, limiting perceptions and self-sabotaging reactions, these troubled young individuals can become more willing and able to better care for themselves—and for their families (current or future) that will inevitably depend on them when they re-enter society.

What’s New?

In February, 2010, through Hands-On-Food, Inc., Lauren began a new culinary/life-skills program at the Brooklyn Residential Center (BRC), in Brooklyn New York. This facility, which is a juvenile jail for females, is under the jurisdiction of the New York State Office of Children and Family Services and provides medical, psychological, recreation,  pre-vocational and educational services for the residents in custody. Residents are remanded to this facility for 3 months to 1 year.

Lauren is hoping to create a culinary scholarship program to help selected students to continue to study, after re-entering society. She is also accumulating donated books to create a “spiritual growth/self-mastery library” inside of this correctional facility.

Ultimately, Lauren’s goal, regardless of the age or sex of an incarcerated student, is to help them to cultivate and embrace a new-found and truly positive sense of power —one that can help them to feel able and motivated to tap into their limitless potential as nurturing, creative and productive humans. To learn more about how to make a tax-deductible donation to this licensed non-profit organization, please send Lauren an email at asklauren@laurengroveman.com or click here.

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