Justin (foreground) and John help prepare a salad at the North Country Center for Independence conference room, which twice a week is transformed into a dining and meeting room for clients, care-givers and staff.
At the North Country Center for Independence, clients gather twice a week to learn methods of adaptive cooking for the handicapped, but it’s about much more than that.
Adaptive cooking is about encouraging people with disabilities to not just eat out of a can or a microwave. That was the idea behind “Tabletop Cooking” when Michael Sherman, Peer Counselor Coordinator at the NCCI conceived of the program. Sherman said he saw over and over where people with disabilities were eating only high sodium, high fat meals, and their diet exasperated other medical conditions. Tabletop Cooking serves nutritious, mostly fresh food meals.
At each lunch the group serves between 10 and 20 people counting clients and caregivers, for $25 or less each meal. One lunch they prepared fed 20 people for $15. There is a Tuesday group, and a different Thursday group.
But more than just learning to cook a simple lunch, or make a nutritious salad, Tabletop Cooking teaches clients some of the softer skills, like proper socializing and hygiene.
“Socialization is huge among the disabled population,” says Sherman. “It brings them to a comfort zone in their lives.”
One client, Sherman recalled, barely spoke until he got involved in Tabletop Cooking. Now he takes part in lunchtime conversations ranging from sports to Christmas decorations.
“It’s all about socializing and eating, and it’s good food. Sometimes it’s like there are 10 conversations going on at once,” says Shelly Pelkey, a caregiver with the Regional Center for Independent Living, which takes part in Tabletop Cooking.
NCCI staff and friends contributed recipes, and they published an adaptive cookbook to help their clients in cooking at home.
Sherman, who is a peer counsellor for people with disabilities, thinks that while a disability may slow a person down, it doesn’t mean that they can’t enjoy life.
“What you do with what you have is up to you. As much as your disability limits you, there are people out there who are worse off, and some that are better,” he says.
The North Country Center for Independence offers numerous programs for North Country residents with a host of disabilities. Through their Assessable New York project, they have established a map of assessable businesses in Plattsburgh. They also run the Ombudsman program, which advocates for people in nursing homes or assisted living facilities throughout the North Country.
With their peer counseling program, staff members or volunteers with a disability support others with a disability by sharing their own experiences, and help them to define and reach their goals.
They also offer information and referral services about available support services in the area, help with learning other independent living skills, advocacy for the handicapped, a consumer directed personal assistance program to help navigate the home health care world, the Radio Reading Service, where volunteers read the news for the visually impaired, and veterans outreach services.
NCCI can be reached for more information at 563-9058, or by going to http://www.ncci-online.com/index.php/about-us.