The lobby at YWCA Evanston/North Shore was filled with family members, YWCA staffers, and other well-wishers last Thursday as members of YW Culinary’s first-ever graduating class received recognition and applause.

YW Culinary is a new program created by YWCA Evanston/North Shore to prepare low- to moderate-income women for success in the food service industry, and eight women completed the inaugural 12-week course.

“Creating a culinary program has long been a goal of YWCA Evanston North/Shore,” said Shannon Callahan, YWCA’s director of women’s leadership and economic advancement. “This program is so directly connected to our mission of empowering women; it’s rewarding to hear the women talk about how they’ve grown, both as workers and as individuals.”

Callahan says the women in the class all had challenges they were working through, but they supported each other and created a community.

“What I saw today at graduation was a group of women who feel like their best selves,” she said. “I’m so impressed with this group and the journey they’ve been on.”

While the eight graduates have different goals, from restaurant work to food photography, their culinary training opens doors for them to explore a variety of career options and further their financial independence.

“The instructors here have no idea how much they touched my life,” said one graduate. “This is the first time I completed something that I wanted to do. This wasn’t just about cooking. It was about making us whole women.”

The women who were part of this first class got connected to the program in different ways. Some were living in YWCA’s domestic violence shelters, while others were part of the organization’s money management classes. And some learned about it because their children were enrolled in YWCA’s Flying Fish aquatics programs.

“Hearing these women speak really brought home the power of our work and how it can transform lives,” said Karen Singer, president and CEO of YWCA Evanston/North Shore. “Beyond the hard skills they acquired, every single graduate spoke about the camaraderie and community they built with each other and how much it mattered. That’s what we do here.”

YW Culinary is gearing up for its next class, which begins in September. For more information about the program, visit www.ywca-ens.org/culinary/ or call 847-864-8445.

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